Friday, September 28, 2012

My trouble with "Trouble With the Curve"

There is what is known in screenwriting class as “The Road Movie,” where two characters take a trip together and have an emotional epiphany, being presented with a reason to travel somewhere in the first act, making the journey and having emotional conflict in the second act, and generally repairing some deep emotional damage and restoring a relationship in the third act.  You’ve seen these flicks before – Planes, Trains and AutomobilesHarold and MaudeMidnight Run, etc., etc.  With this lesson imparted to you, dear reader, and with your having seen the ad campaign for this movie, then surely you have guessed that Trouble With the Curve is of this formula.

Clint Eastwood is Gus Lobell, a veteran baseball scout who has spent the majority of his working life scouring the backwoods of the South in search of talent for the Atlanta Braves.   Younger Braves scouts are hell-bent on drafting a young North Carolina high-school phenom based solely on the numbers he’s produced playing amateur baseball, but Gus and his boss, Pete (John Goodman) believe in the “eyeball test,” and insist on visually assessing the player before agreeing he should be a part of the Braves’ future.  Age doing what it does, however, Gus finds his eyesight failing, which means his ability to give prospective ballplayers the “eyeball test” will soon be gone, so Pete convinces Gus’s somewhat-estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to accompany him on the trip to North Carolina, even though Mickey is at a critical point in her law career and probably shouldn’t be leaving and jeopardizing her potential partnership.  Gus doesn’t want Mickey tagging along, either, making Mickey’s task all that much harder, and the attentions of a fellow scout, played by Justin Timberlake, certainly don’t help matters. 

Eastwood plays Gus with almost the same tone as his character from Grand Torino and (maybe to a slightly lesser degree) Million Dollar Baby.  Amy Adams, though, is as terrific as usual, taking a sorta-typical Lifetime TV movie-type of character and making us love her (or maybe that’s just me, given my penchant for blue-eyed, baseball-loving redheads…).  Even Justin Timberlake does a good job with what he’s given to do, and the energy these three lead actors bring to their roles is what saves this movie, as most of the other characters are cartoon-like, almost simplistic in their depiction.  The younger scout portrayed by Matthew Lillard, who I believe is supposed to stereotypically represent the “new school” of statistic-driven talent evaluation, is so sniveling and comically evil-doing that I almost felt myself yanked away from a movie and into a sitcom whenever he appeared onscreen.   Mickey’s fellow-lawyer boyfriend is almost a joke, too, with his logistical analysis of and checklist-like approach to their relationship. 

Even the high-school-aged buffoon who is the object of all these scouts’ attention is seemingly plucked from one of those Warner Bros. cartoons, where he was the bulldog who used to beat up on the Sylvester-looking cat so sadistically.  I don’t doubt for a second that a lot of “bonus babies” signed to big money right out of high school behave this boorishly, but the movie seems to almost go to pains to continually portray this kid as an arrogant ass, when the point was effectively conveyed after his first appearance.  Everything after that just seemed like piling-on. The lack of fleshing-out of these secondary characters really keeps this movie from feeling like anything more than a slightly-better-than-average TV movie. 

Four years ago, after Grand Torino had its theatrical run, Clint Eastwood proclaimed he was retiring from acting, as good parts for 80-year olds were too few and far between, so he was going to just stick to working behind the camera from that point.  This “retirement” lasted all of four years, as what he believed to be a pretty good part came along after all.  He most likely did this movie as a favor to director Robert Lorenz, a long-time associate who has worked with Eastwood for two decades as a co-producer and second unit director.  Even though we’ve seen Eastwood play this character before (in effect, anyway), he plays it so well that it’s a pleasure to watch.  Who doesn’t find himself snickering when Clint starts ranting in his sandpaper-and-gravel voice, even if it’s directed at an empty chair on a stage…? (no political statement implied here). 

All told, I was a little disappointed at how simplistic this movie is.  Baseball scouting and talent evaluation is nowhere near as simple as it is portrayed here (neither is the legal profession, I’m sure), but a movie story that we’ve seen before, yet still done well, can be nice to see, and Trouble With the Curve is one of those flicks.  It may feel like you’ve seen it several times before, but the lead actors give such heartfelt performances that even so predictable a story as this one is fairly enjoyable.  I liked it okay, but I’d have been just fine seeing it on the Hallmark Channel someday instead of forking over eleven bucks for it.