‘Trouble with the Curve’ lets us down in the last reel

By Gary Clift

Robert Lorenz’s first feature as director is a movie that wants to be a baseball classic, something that will get replayed on TV around the beginning of the play-offs for forty years. “Trouble with the Curve” has features of interest. But the script lets us down in the last reel.

The movie stars Clint Eastwood as Gus, an old baseball scout for the Braves. He is also a widower who sent his only child, Mickey (Amy Adams) to grow up elsewhere. Now in her thirties, she’s a rising associate in a big Atlanta law firm.

Father and daughter are each facing a professional crisis. Mickey is in the running to become a law firm partner when the Braves’ head of scouting (John Goodman) calls to tell her there is something wrong with her father’s health. Gus has macular degeneration and is losing his eyesight.

Mickey takes a few days off from work and her supervisors bring her rival for the partnership in to finish a job she has started. Nevertheless, while she is checking on her father she finally hears his explanation for his having sent her away when she was a kid. And she meets a young former Gus signee, an ex Bosox pitcher now a Bosox scout named Johnny Flannigan (Justin Timberlake). A romance develops between them.

Johnny and Gus are both out to scout a high school slugger. This kid can hit the ball hard. But he is a braggart. And Gus concludes that he isn’t ready to hit curve ball pitches. As a sidelight, one of the people the slugger bullies is a young man who works at the motel where Gus and Mickey are staying. This guy can throw, we learn early on. We learn more about him later.

Poor Matthew Lillard, a talented screen figure, plays a Braves executive out to prove himself to the club’s General Manager (Robert Patrick). He has secretly sent his own scout out to see the slugger, and his scout has reported that the kid will be a major league sensation for whichever team drafts him.

So far, so good. But here the plot gets into trouble. Johnny’s outing as a scout ends in his dismissal. He blames Gus and Mickey. The viewer will blame the writer, as they recognized that even Boston’s organization can’t care who the Braves pick after them in the draft.

Mickey’s professional troubles stop being dramatized. And the scene the script uses to resolve Gus’s is hoaky. Lillard, who played Shaggy from Scooby Do in a couple of movies,  is asked to be a cartoon character again here.

But there is some fun to be had watching this eventually disappointing movie. For one thing, it puts Eastwood, a bona fide old-time movie star, in scene after scene beside Adams, a terrific film actor. He does all the glowering and muttering we love. She creates a new character. We like both. Both are good. But they are different.

Then, too, this is a movie that gets up and moves around. We spend a little time in the law firm’s conference room, some in Gus’s bungalow, some in different offices belonging to the Braves organization, and so on. We are in motel rooms, diners—several of these—and bars, at least four various ballparks, in a pond in rural North Carolina, and on several sets of roads. There is a flashback to incidents involving a horse who, years ago, raced around the base paths as part of a game promotion.

And speaking parts. Heck, there must be twenty actors who have lines. In comparing this to the six or eight in the much smaller-scale thriller movie I saw twenty-four hours earlier, I got to wondering about a glasses-wearing ball player the slugger twice belittles.

A good movie finds ways to act out whatever is important. In that way “Trouble with the Curve” is a good movie. Too bad about the forced late developments.

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