In 2008 Clint Eastwood retired from acting, leaving his last performance residing in the shell of a mediocre racial redemption film named Gran Torino. Honestly, Eastwood was the only good thing about Gran Torino. His grizzled voice and dead bolt eyes gave credibility and strength to a film marred by a horrible supporting cast and a predictable script. It wasn’t the proper exit for one of film’s most venerable actors, but it was an exit nonetheless. Sergio Leone’s “Man with No Name” put himself out to pasture, finding time for his true craft: direction. For three years Eastwood disappeared behind the camera, churning out hits and misses at a yearly rate. How could he resist the temptation of complete creative control? Maybe the control became too much for his fragile frame, but Eastwood unceremoniously came out of retirement to star in this year’s sports drama Trouble with the Curve. Perhaps Eastwood should’ve stayed in retirement.
Trouble with the Curve is a generic sports drama that is only concerned with coloring within the lines. Actually, it’s coloring with a big fat grey marker, lacking any kind of bite or scintillating moments boasting dramatic heft. Eastwood, channeling the grumpy old-fart he played in Gran Torino, is Gus Lobel, an aging baseball scout that is losing his vision. Acting as the deathblow to Gus’ dated life are computer based scouting metrics, tools used vehemently by Gus’ professional enemy Tom Silver (Matthew Lillard), a cartoon villain devoid of consequence. Nonetheless, under the scrutiny of his employers, the Atlanta Braves, Gus hits the road to scout a blue chip prospect in preparation for his team’s draft. If Gus can provide a sound recommendation to the Braves, he’ll be able to dictate the terms of his new contract. Gus has an inherent intuition when it comes to the game that has driven his life, but his failing vision threatens to force him into an embarrassing retirement. Thankfully for Gus, his semi-estranged daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), begrudgingly tags along with him.
I think you know what happens next: emotional bloodletting occurs on the open road where tears sear shut old wounds as father and daughter come together in expected ways. Amidst the family turmoil exists a second act love story between Mickey and Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), a former hot prospect turned scout, which haphazardly shifts the film’s focal point. I truly wish there was more to it all. For what it’s worth, I can’t assault the actor’s attempts to flesh out their underwritten characters. Eastwood, even though he resurrects his previous performance, minus the racial epithets, still has screen presence, even if he spends half the film sporting a gravelish demeanor. As for Adams and Timberlake, they do enough to shorten their generation gap by developing a charming rapport. Timberlake is especially entertaining as his charisma and comedic timing give the film a fleeting, intermittent flair. Simply put, the screenplay just isn’t good. Written by Randy Brown, Trouble with the Curve follows the same cliché beats found in every family drama that came before it. From a troubling family secret to detrimental careers, Trouble with the Curve cloaks itself with familiarity.
The clichés are only supplanted by the script’s weird flourishes. In one instance the script introduces a song that bears some significance on Gus’ relationship with his dead wife and Mickey, but without context it fails as a proper emotional tool. A potentially beautiful motif mutates in to a cheesy footnote and it’s abandoned as quickly as it’s introduced. Adding more dead weight to the script is an ending veering unnecessarily into the territory of deus ex machina, a notion that would surely make Robert McKee gag violently. There’s probably an audience out there that will swoon over the film’s redemptive arc and crowd pleasing ending, but we’ve seen this film before. I understand that some filmgoers just want a digestible film that doesn’t pull punches, but Trouble with the Curve irritatingly disguises its simplicity with the wardrobe of complexity. You have to believe that Eastwood came out of retirement for something far more rewarding. I hope he finds it because it’s not in this film.