As a cynical movie critic, I should’ve loathed it. So why the heck was I smiling the whole time? Chalk it up to the absolutely phenomenal cast and a refusal on anyone’s part to wink at the cheesy material. It’s practically a magic trick, watching talented actors breathe life into clichés that were tired 60 years ago.
Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, a legendary baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves. In the movie’s world, he’s the guy who discovered Dale Murphy, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones and a bunch of other superstars. However, Gus’ eyesight is starting to go and his younger rival (Matthew Lillard) is already looking for a reason to get him fired. (You know he’s evil because he uses a computer instead of his gut.)
Gus’ career is on the line and Pete (John Goodman), his boss and oldest friend, knows it. In a last-ditch effort to save his buddy’s job, Pete visits Mickey (Amy Adams), Gus’ estranged daughter and begs for her help. She’s trying to make partner at a high-powered Atlanta law firm, but Pete convinces her to take a road trip to North Carolina with her dad to scout Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill), the league’s most promising prospect in years. If they can sign the kid, Gus might just be able to save his job.
Along the way, they run into Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), a pitcher-turned-scout and another of Gus’ big discoveries. He’s got his eye on a career in the Red Sox announcer’s booth, but his gaze eventually shifts to Mickey (as it would, considering she looks and sounds a lot like Amy Adams).
Will Gus and Mickey repair their relationship? Will they be able to save Gus’ job? Can Johnny break through Mickey’s icy exterior and win her heart? And what about the hotel maid’s teenage son, the one who isn’t allowed to play catch because he has chores to do? Will he be important to the story later on? If you answered no to any of these questions, you’ve clearly never seen a movie before.
I realize I’m being dismissive, a fact that doesn’t match up with the grade below. But it’s tough to communicate how the rational side of me can understand that a movie is less-than-stellar while my emotional side simultaneously enjoys the experience. It’s like letting a slick car salesman talk you into buying a gas-guzzling convertible.
Again, credit for that goes to the cast. They take newcomer Randy Brown’s script and elevate the material to surprising levels. Robert Lorenz, making his directorial debut after years of behind-the-scenes work on previous Eastwood pictures, clearly adopted his mentor’s point-and-shoot philosophy. Lorenz also managed to convince Eastwood to star in a project the actor didn’t also direct, a feat that hasn’t occurred since “In the Line of Fire” back in 1993.
The renowned performer does his standard cranky old man thing, which should delight audiences to no end. His interplay with the rest of the cast — particularly Adams — is endearing, and a scene between him and a tombstone proves the guy still has a knack for acting after all these years. (It’s much more successful than the last time he tried to have a conversation with an inanimate object.)
Adams is fantastic as always, matching the intimidating Eastwood line-for-line and glare-for-glare. Unfortunately, her character falls into the stereotype of “career woman with no time for a personal life,” but the actress keeps it from feeling like yet another retread.
Timberlake continues to improve as an actor with each role he takes on. I know people tend to give him a hard time, but I’ve always been impressed with his screen presence and comedic timing. He and Eastwood have some hilarious scenes together.
The rest of the cast delivers memorable but too-brief turns. As far as I’m concerned, it’s impossible to overuse Goodman, but he disappears from the story for long stretches. It robs the film of one of its strongest assets. Lillard shows up every once in a while to sneer, and dependable character actor Robert Patrick pops in occasionally to deliver the icy stare he does so well.
“Trouble with the Curve” isn’t breaking new cinematic ground by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s funny, sweet and most moviegoers are going to fall in love. It wouldn’t shock me at all if this ends up being a “The Blind Side”-style surprise blockbuster.
“Trouble with the Curve” is rated PG-13 for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking.