Trouble with the Curve is the antithesis of Moneyball, last year’s baseball flick about the ironic humanity of computer-based scouting, which sticks to stats and puts outlying misfits on an even playing field with square-jawed superstars. A precious banality best suited for 1950s TV, Robert Lorenz’s directorial debut argues that such a newfangled process is a bunch of malarkey, and that on-site player assessments can’t be topped by the dreaded creep of technology. In the stands, you can hear the way an aluminum bat strikes a curveball, you can hear the way a shy amateur nearly cripples catchers with his pitch, and, if you’re at a game attended by legendary scout Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood), you can hear a crotchety, octogenarian cliché hem and haw about the “Interweb.” Yes, Randy Brown’s script feels like it’s been on the shelf for ages, even flubbing its poppy one-liners, which stick to referencing dated basics like Desperate Housewives and Dr. Phil. Though it peddles vintage charm, this is a movie with a pigheaded aversion to progress, and amid its strident trumpeting of the joys of peachy, analog living, Eastwood makes his infamous chair speech look like chapter one of a season of self-parody.
The introduction of Gus comes with a miserable morning grumble, followed by an arduous urinating session in which he boasts that he’s outlived his penis. It’s then on to kicking a coffee table, stubbornly wolfing down Spam for breakfast, referring to yoga as “voodoo,” and calling a young doctor “Sonny.” Gus wasn’t written for Eastwood, but he might as well have been, as the role encourages every blue-collar, gritted-teeth trademark of the aging legend, from the diner meals to the scratchy cussing. It’s an awfully tired persona, and costars seem to encircle it as if regarding a past-prime boss, his presence as revered as it is tolerated. As Gus’s estranged, go-getter daughter, Mickey, who risks a big law-firm promotion to help her dad through a bout with glaucoma, Amy Adams brings a breath of life while gamely delivering limp dialogue, doing her best to bail out a sinking ship in a way not seen since Cruel Intentions 2. As Johnny Flanagan, a high-school-phenom-turned-baseball-scout-slash-aspiring-announcer, Justin Timberlake seems thrilled to be on board, but his boyish enthusiasm offers mere moments of relief. Most often, Trouble with the Curve is fixed on the reward-free taming of an old beast, the slow cracking of his hard shell coinciding with his victory over one-dimensional villains (as a hollowly cutthroat hotshot who swears by the Moneyball method, Matthew Lillard is the Dennis to Gus’s Mr. Wilson).
A producer on the film, Eastwood is surrounded by familiar behind-the-camera faces, including his longtime cinematographer, Tom Stern (who thankfully lightens up his palette), and Lorenz, who’s been producing Eastwood’s movies for the last 10 years. The first-time director does very little to illustrate his own filmmaking voice, rather implying that he’s emulating the helming methods of his lead, whose famed briskness on set has yielded many a subpar take. Lorenz does manage to sprinkle in some quick and quirky visual Easter eggs, like a motel sign with missing letters that reads “Lowest rat-s in town” and a flash of a headstone engraved with “May the Lord Grant You Extra Innings,” but he has a nasty habit of hammering scenes into the ground, notably heaping on the treacle, for instance, while Gus serenades his late wife. Trouble with the Curve is pat, unambitious, and highly misguided, settling on exposition to develop characters like Gus’s concerned friend, Pete (John Goodman), but fit to awkwardly humor a certain demographic with a shirtless Timberlake scene.
The climactic meat of the story concerns a dark past between Mickey and her pops, who abandoned her years ago, leaving unexplained emotional bruises. Confrontational scenes provide some dramatic working space for Eastwood and Adams, but it all feels undercooked, and matters wind up gratingly unresolved while nevertheless tied in a wince-inducing bow. Things are nearly saved somewhat by a final-act showdown, which, in pinning the digitally ranked batting favorite against a rocket-armed wallflower nabbed on instinct, presents a surprisingly strong metaphor for the film’s opposing themes. But, wouldn’t you know it, the movie had to go and make the dark horse an underprivileged Latino, at last tacking on a good, old-fashioned boost of white heroism. Along with Eastwood’s growl, you can hear the gears creaking in this movie, whose own trouble with the curve is that it’s many miles behind it.