Trouble With The Curve is the reactionaries’ answer to Moneyball. No wonder Clint Eastwood (when he’s not ranting at invisible democratic candidates) signed on to play a growly talent scout for the Atlanta Braves, a set-in-his-ways veteran who uses not equations to sign players, but good old-fashioned instinct. Benign and watchable, the movie is akin to a sunny day at a little league game where nothing exciting ever happens. But for a film that purports to advocate going with your gut over numbers and calculations, Trouble With The Curve couldn’t feel less instinctual. It was assembled using the oldest and most hackneyed movie formulas.
Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, a legendary Major League Baseball scout who’s signed some the league’s most explosive players. Times are changing, though, and he’s about to be put to pasture by his more progressive superiors. He’s sent on one last scouting report in North Carolina to observe a high school big hitter. As Gus, Eastwood phones in the cantankerous dinosaur shtick he’s been employing for over a decade now. Whether Gus is struggling at the toilet, tearing apart his house from frustration, or shrugging off doctors’ grave warnings of macular degeneration, Eastwood plays him with the same “get off my lawn!” grouchiness that we’ve come to know as his inexorable style. Only this time it feels more ineffectual and redundant than in previous roles.
Although advertised as a Clint Eastwood vehicle, this movie actually belongs to Amy Adams, as Gus’s only daughter, Mickey, a big city lawyer on her way to becoming a partner. He was an absentee father and the two are estranged. When the workaholic hears about Gus’s ocular ailments, she decides to put work on hold and meet him in North Carolina for some bonding time. Mickey is no damsel, however. She can shoot pool and whiskey with the men, and even knows more baseball trivia than handsome Yankee’s scout Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake). He's after more than just factoids, by the way. Adams just about takes over the movie, wrestling the spotlight away from a big shot like Eastwood, and showing palpable chemistry with Timberlake, her typically charismatic co-star.
At one point he does call her “emotionally unavailable”, a quip he picked up from Doctor Phil, but the message is all the same: Mickey and Gus will have to work out their issues before movie’s end. I only wish it hadn’t been done in the most facile and cursory manner imaginable. (Gus recalls an incident where he failed to protect her that’s supposed to patch things up, but really just opens a whole new bag of concerns). Can Gus prove his worth to his bosses despite his failing vision? Can Mickey open up her heart to love? Trouble With The Curve rounds the bases adequately with every contrivance in the playbook. It may be a rebuttal to Moneyball, but (as The Sandlot so elegantly put it) it’s not good enough to lick the dirt off Aaron Sorkin’s cleats.