It’s hard to believe that a film as good as Trouble with the Curve practically happened as an afterthought. Star Clint Eastwood essentially swore off acting after his magnificent performance in Gran Torino, but his most recent project, which was directing a remake of A Star is Born starring musician Beyonce ended up on the back-burner because of her pregnancy (and though she gave birth months ago, it isn’t clear if the project is still on). In the meantime, Eastwood agreed to star in this film, the directorial debut of his longtime producer/assistant director Robert Lorenz. If I ever run into Jay-Z, I will have to thank him for getting his wife pregnant.
Eastwood is Gus Lobel, one of the all-time greatest baseball scouts who is still on the job despite his advanced age because his tried-and-true analysis still works. He’s one of those aging baseball minds that we glimpsed in Moneyball, but his mind hasn’t lost a step. When he’s not scouting high school and college games for the Atlanta Braves he’s full of the surly and cranky Eastwood charm — a PG-13 version of Gran Torino‘s Walt Kowalski, who makes a fine breakfast of Spam and Schlitz (or alternately a breakfast pizza, delivered by Nice Guy Johnny‘s Matt Bush in a quick blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo). Philip Sanderson (Matthew Lillard) is a younger scout who is obsessed with stats — he doesn’t even bother leaving the office — who is gunning for Gus’ job. Worried about his old friend, Gus’ boss Pete Klein (John Goodman) asks his daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams) to accompany her father on a scouting trip to evaluate a high school phenom named Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill), an obnoxious youngster who seemingly has the raw talent to be a stat but is already a legend in his own mind. Mickey is a lawyer on the verge of a promotion, but chooses to accompany her father at the urging of Klein even though their relationship is about one step above “estranged.” On the way Gus is reunited with one of his former picks, Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), who was a former can’t-miss prospect who burned out his arm and is now a scout hoping to get into broadcasting.
Trouble with the Curve is a cocktail of Moneyball, Gran Torino, and a large dose of romantic comedy as a sweetener. Oddly enough, that strange brew works wonderfully. While Moneyball was definitely the harder-hitting film, Trouble with the Curve is full of the kind of fun a baseball movie should have (which Moneyball lacked). A lot of that is because of Adams, who holds her own against Eastwood as they snip at each other over past transgressions and her commitment to her job. Although it goes back to the “we need to talk about the past” well too many times, the humor in the movie is enjoyable and Eastwood has a number of one-liners that are perfectly tailored for his gravelly delivery.
The relationship between Mickey and Flanagan goes exactly as you probably suspect it would since they’re practically the only characters in their thirties in the entire movie. Naturally Adams can more than handle the requirements of rom-com flirty, but Timberlake wasn’t a great choice for his role. His performance is relatively inoffensive, but Timberlake is entirely too skinny to be a former major league pitcher and his voice is entirely too pip-squeaky to ever be an announcer. But it might be the first film that Timberlake has done in which his character actually has depth, so even though he’s the weakest actor in the film he manages to survive amongst the far more talented cast.
Lorenz and Eastwood have created a solid, enjoyable light film that will please just about any crowd. Eastwood hasn’t made a comedic drama like this in years (and despite the fact it is Lorenz directing from a script by newcomer Randy Brown, this movie has Eastwood’s fingerprints — as well as many of his usual crew — all over it). If this is indeed the last film he ever acts in, it will be a wonderful feel-good ending to his long acting career.
Rating: One of those rare movies that really does have something for everyone — definitely a great date night flick (8/10).