Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay “Trouble With The Curve” is that while watching it, all else disappears. One forgets that the lead actor, Clint Eastwood, has recently delivered a subtly racist monologue to a chair; one forgets that the appearance from supporting actress Amy Adams is the lesser of her one-two punch of new releases this weekend; one even forgets that romantic-interest Justin Timberlake once crooned pop tunes with one of the more ear-splitting groups of the late ’90s, N’Sync. (The dude has dropped two great solo albums since then, but the point still stands.)
All of the context surrounding the film, all of the behind-the-scenes workings and even the film’s fairly static, flaccid direction become irrelevant. What we are left with are three wonderful actors, their small-scale quests to get what they want, and our own emotions as an audience. “Trouble With The Curve” is as unpretentious and undemanding as movies get. This occasionally works in its favor, creating a charming, homely atmosphere. Sometimes it works against it, as the simplistic characterization and “aw-shucks” demeanor get old fast.
Eastwood plays baseball scout Gus Lobel. As Lobel approaches his mid-80s years, his eyesight begins to erode — needless to say, a pressing issue, since it’s that sense that keeps him employed. His bosses want to send him to North Carolina to assess a rising high-school talent, but Lobel needs a fresh pair of eyes. Reluctantly, he recruits his fully grown, somewhat estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), to head to the field with him and see if the kid has talent. While there, Mickey hits it off with rival baseball scout Johnny, played by Timberlake.
This sets the stage for an admittedly minor series of conflicts, all of which are resolved with the tidy sweep and moral righteousness one would expect from an Eastwood film. Interestingly enough, Eastwood is, for the first time in 19 years, only an actor here. He serves under Robert Lorenz, a first-timer who’s nonetheless assisted Eastwood’s directorial work for decades. Lorenz directs with a capable if unflashy eye. To be fair, this isn’t a story demanding great pyrotechnics behind the camera. Flashiness has a time and a place, and “Trouble With The Curve” provides neither. Nevertheless, the proceedings have a sort of hokey stagey-ness to them — one can almost sense the “walk here”, “pause there” script directions.
The script, drafted by fellow newcomer Randy Brown, is totally adequate. Rarely calling attention to itself, and only doing so when blatantly corny set-pieces arise (Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake winning each other over by skillfully doing a country/rodeo-type dance? Really?), Brown also writes some of Eastwood’s better one-liners in quite some time. Eastwood delivers them with all the conviction and skill his RNC speech lacked — and unlike his co-star in that event, he’s got very skilled actors backing him up here.
Amy Adams — continuing to snap up every mildly juicy female role Hollywood has — is as plucky and endearing as ever. She even makes her romantic subplot with the (notably) younger Justin Timberlake click here, bringing reality to a contrived, corny scenario. John Goodman, Robert Patrick, and Matthew Lillard are all vibrant and engaging in supporting roles as Eastwood’s co-workers. Perhaps, had the attitude of the cast been emulated when the script was hammered out, “Trouble With The Curve” could have thrown us all for a loop. As it stands, it fully engages and charms. For a time. B-