Eastwood using the same pitch
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, September 21, 2012
The title of “Trouble With the Curve” refers to a baseball pitch, the kind that goes every which way until finally landing with a thump in the catcher’s mitt. It turns out the movie itself follows the same winding course, taking viewers on a fitfully engaging journey through the depredations of aging, the fragile bonds between adult children and their parents, and the beginnings of a sweet romantic relationship.
“Trouble With the Curve” also offers yet more proof of the power of casting, both for good and for ill. There’s no doubt that Clint Eastwood -- whose last appearance before a big audience was met with polarizing results -- is perfectly suited to play Gus Lobel, a scout for the Atlanta Braves who is beginning to feel the effects of his years, not only when he’s trying to coax his body into cooperating with a morning bathroom ritual but when he’s spotting young talent on the ball field. (Among other things, “Trouble With the Curve” is the Luddite’s response to last year’s scandalously underwatched “
Gus has a strained relationship with his daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), whose mother died when she was 6; glancing at Mickey’s post-workout attire, he gruffly asks if she needs money for new clothes. When she tells him she’s just come from yoga, he makes a snide comment about being “into that voodoo.”
Gus isn’t a warm-and-fuzzy dad, which makes it all the tougher for Mickey to join him on a scouting expedition to North Carolina -- purportedly to keep an eye on some health concerns, but also to make one more try at bonding with the father who keeps pushing her away.
Directed by Robert Lorenz from a script by Randy Brown, “Trouble With the Curve” can never quite decide what to make of the scowling, squinting Gus, whose old-coot asides about computer machines and kids today Eastwood delivers in his now trademark gruffer-than-thou whisper. (If this is the persona Eastwood has chosen to adopt permanently for his remaining days on screen, he at least needs to move away from the “get off my yard” cliches.) On the one hand, he’s the same lovable, unsentimental loner we’ve come to associate with Eastwood, who has one genuinely tender moment in a scene filmed at Gus’s wife’s grave. On the other, he’s a withholding, unfunny grouch capable of cutting emotional cruelty.
One look at Mickey’s tear-filled eyes tells viewers all they need to know about Gus’s limitations. But, as appealing as Adams is in the role (and as impressive a U-turn this represents from her performance in “The Master,” also opening today), the audience may wonder whether “Trouble With the Curve” would have benefited from an actress of more tomboyish grit and mettle. Adams tries her best to bring her high, small voice into a tougher register, but the result is affectless rather than tempered or complex, and her Mickey never quite gives Gus the comeuppance he deserves and the audience is waiting for. In fact, what spark is to be found in “Trouble With the Curve” is provided by Justin Timberlake who, despite an accent that drifts as badly as one young player’s batting grip, brings the proceedings to life every time he’s in a scene.
By the time “Trouble With the Curve” reaches its dramatic -- and manipulatively contrived -- third-act reveal, it resembles the kind of bland, pictures-of-people talking that all too often pass for movies these days. “Trouble With the Curve” presents viewers with a frustrating change-up: What promised to be a modest, refreshingly unforced little comedy turns out to be low energy to a fault.
Contains profanity, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking.