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Performances save middling ‘Curve'

Sep. 21, 2012 - 10:39AM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 21, 2012 - 10:39AM  |  
Trailer: 'Trouble with the Curve'
Trailer: 'Trouble with the Curve': An ailing baseball scout (Clint Eastwood) takes the daughter he has avoided most of his life (Amy Adams) on one final recruiting trip.
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"Trouble With the Curve," a movie about an aging and ailing baseball scout, stars Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams. (Keith Bernstein / Warner Bros. Pictures via the AP)

‘Trouble With the Curve’

Rated PG-13 for language, mild sexual references and Clint puffing on a huge, rancid stogie in every other scene.

When we first see octogenarian Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood), the main character in "Trouble With the Curve," he's standing at his toilet and growling peevishly at his balky, uncooperative bladder.

Wow … TMI, Clint.

And Gus — a crotchety, pig-headed pill who also suffers from encroaching glaucoma that threatens his livelihood as a scout for the Atlanta Braves — gets steadily less likable from there.

Asking audiences to spend two hours with Gus is one of several ways in which Eastwood, who produced this film, draws very, very deeply on his considerable good will among moviegoers.

Another is the huge leap of faith he took in handing the director's chair to Robert Lorenz, assistant director on several other Eastwood films but never the top dog, and Randy Brown, a screenwriting rookie.

The results are predictable: A middling effort that feels more like a cable TV movie, lacking anything close to the thematic heft we've come to associate with Eastwood projects.

As is often the case with such films, this one stays afloat on its performances. As disagreeable as Gus is, Clint is still Clint, capable of packing a punch into any line reading. More importantly, he gets stellar support from a couple of (comparative) kids, Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake.

Gus has a storied track record in finding potential diamond stars on high school fields out in the sticks, but it's been a long time since he's landed a big fish.

With his eyes failing and his contract up in three months, old-school Gus is feeling heat from young guns like fellow scout Phil (Matthew Lillard), who's all about using newfangled tools like computers to identify talent and has the ear of the Braves' general manager (Robert Patrick).

So the head of scouting, Gus' old pal Pete (John Goodman), thinks it would be a swell idea to nudge Gus' long-estranged daughter Mickey (Adams) to accompany her dad on his latest swing through North Carolina.

Gus is heading down there to scout a supposed can't-miss high school slugger (Joe Massingill), drawn for no apparent reason as a complete jerkwad whose head is as thick as his waistline.

Pete's thinking is that Mickey — as in Mantle, her dad's favorite player ("Good thing it wasn't Yogi Berra," someone quips) — can serve as Gus' eyes, seeing as how she's steeped in baseball lore and knowledge herself.

Various strains of melodrama ensue. The biggest is the deep-seated emotional issues between Gus and Mickey related to his abandonment of her after her mother died when she was 6. This is supposedly what fueled Mickey's drive to become a high-powered corporate attorney on the brink of a partnership.

Also in town to scout Gentry is Johnny "The Flame" Flanagan (Timberlake), a former pitching phenom signed by Gus who blew out his arm and is now scouting for the Red Sox.

And if you think there's any chance that Johnny won't end up busting through Mickey's emotional armor for a moonlight pond dip and some serious face-sucking, you don't get out to the movies enough.

There's nothing particularly revelatory, insightful or even exciting about any of this; Lorenz and Brown tip all of their pitches and don't bother developing any narrative drive until late in the game, when the requisite father-daughter healing commences. (This culminates in a delirious contrivance that comes off like a backhanded smack-down of "Moneyball.")

It's hokey and maudlin enough for a Lifetime movie. But Adams has a way of raising the quality of any film she's in, and Timberlake flashes an easy, unaffected charm that makes you think he could have a solid acting career if he ever gave up his other hobby.

Together with Eastwood, they infuse "Trouble With the Curve" with just enough break to nip the outside corner.

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