By Joan Ellis
Would tolerance have come more easily if Trouble with the Curve had been released before instead of after the ordeal of watching Clint Eastwood talk to an empty chair at the Republican Convention?
Perhaps, but still it’s hard not to think of it when in this movie he talks and sings to his absent wife at her gravesite. This isn’t a terrible movie, but it comes close – and that from a faithful fan of Clint as Rawhide’s Rowdy Yates in the 1950s.
Nice premise. An 80-year-old baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves is being edged toward retirement by a young hotshot with a laptop. The scout’s successful lawyer/ daughter, who learned baseball at her father’s side, accompanies him on a scouting trip at the request of a concerned friend. The trip, a resentful standoff between father and daughter, ends with daughter transcendent in love, career and a new relationship with dad. All the good guys win.
The problem here is that this story unfolds at a halting pace with every move wrapped in predictability. Most of these bases have been touched with great sophistication just recently in Moneyball. Still, isn’t even a conventional baseball movie with Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams a sure bet? A good writer and director could have made it so, but Curve has neither.
A good baseball movie needs a dash of heroics and a willing audience with sentimental hearts. After all, we grew up on the legends of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio; and it’s why the national collective never took to Ted Williams.
But look what happens here. In the first two-thirds of the movie, Clint must show us first that Gus is getting old and second, that he is a first-class grump. He takes a long, tortured pee; he wears glasses that do no good because he has advanced macular degeneration; he drops things; he trips; he falls. In a rage, he kicks furniture. And he is very nasty to his daughter Mickey.
Mickey (for Mantle) attends to her cranky, nearly sightless father while evaluating Bo (Joe Massingill in a woefully overplayed performance), a team prospect. The movie turns from ordeal to pleasure during the annual draft when the futures of Gus, Mickey, and Johnny (Justin Timberlake as her new romance) hang on Mickey’s decision. Suddenly the film becomes a welcome sentimental warm water wash. The high point comes with Mickey’s discovery of a pitching ace, a natural, and the events it unleashes.
The acting? John Goodman can turn any scriptwriter’s bad lines into gold. He’s always that good. Amy Adams must deal with too long a stretch of being a mere spectator, but she blossoms when the script jumps alive. As for Clint Eastwood, let him put snarling old age to bed. There are some great roles out there for old men who are not cranks (see Jeremy Irons in The Words).
The upshot: Two-thirds tedious predictability, one-third good-old fashioned fun.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.