Forget everything you learned about how to build a winning baseball team from last year’s Moneyball. Forget algorithms and statistics and on-base percentages. You build a winner by relying on the instincts of the scouts, the guys out watching and evaluating high school talent, taking note of every pitch, every crack of the bat. You trust these scouts implicitly — even if they’re blind.
Or so says Trouble With the Curve, which is as much about family dysfunction as it is about how baseball should retain its old-fashioned purity. Directed by first-timer Robert Lorenz, the film oozes with nostalgia for the good old days — you know, the time before computers ruined everything — while whiffing on the element any good baseball movie requires: the ability to show just what makes the game magic to so many.
Nobody would pay much attention to this plodding but good-hearted film if not for its star, Clint Eastwood, although he’s just dialing in the go-to Cantankerous Old Man mode on which he has relied for a decade or so. Eastwood plays Gus, an aging scout for the Atlanta Braves sent by his boss Pete (John Goodman) to North Carolina to check out a young hitter who could be a first-round draft pick. But Gus’ eyes are failing, and a young upstart with the Braves scouting department (Matthew Lillard) has already started making noise about how Gus should retire and allow the technologically astute to take his place. Gus, of course, refuses to even admit he has a problem, because if he just listened to his eye doctor, there wouldn’t be a movie.
Instead, Pete, who knows Gus’ job is in jeopardy, comes up with another solution: have Gus’ daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) take a badly timed leave from her high-pressure job as an attorney and spend a few days helping Gus out. Naturally, Gus and Mickey do not get along. She’s resentful he left her with relatives when her mom died. He doesn’t want to talk about it.
The biggest problem with Trouble With the Curve is that you won’t want them to talk about it, either. Mickey comes off as a workaholic whiner, and her childhood issues grow quickly tiresome. So do her sparring matches with Gus. Each character is defined by idiosyncrasies: He thinks yoga is “voodoo” and orders pizza with anchovies for breakfast; she makes her own carrot juice in the break room at work and knows more baseball trivia than Joe Buck, Tim McCarver and George Will together. She is fond of saying things like: “Don’t try to manipulate me. I’m an attorney. That’s my job.” He tells her, “I just didn’t want you to have a life in the cheap seats.” Can’t we just move along and mythologize the smell of the grass or something?
Mickey is finally humanized by her budding relationship with the amiable Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a former pitcher now working as a scout. Timberlake is the force that energizes the movie; the film flares to life when he’s on screen, especially when he attempts to thaw Mickey’s cold, cold heart with his adorableness. He even clogs.
Unfortunately even a clogging Timberlake can’t stop the movie’s march to a conveniently happy ending. Nor can he block the flow of psychobabble. It’s enough to make any fan beg: Play ball. Please.
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Matthew Lillard, Robert Patrick.
Director: Robert Lorenz.
Screenwriter: Randy Brown.
Producers: Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Michele Weisler.
A Warner Bros. release. Running time: 111 minutes. Language, sexual references, some thematic material, smoking. Playing at area theaters.