“Does anyone know what the state bird of New Jersey is?” asks a waitress to a crowded North Carolina diner including Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood), who responds, “That’s a trick question, because there are no birds in New Jersey.”
What the hell does that mean?
This preposterous line from Randy Brown’s Trouble With the Curve script actually does not offend me as a New Jersey native (though I do assure you, we have birds), but it does offend me as a moviegoer. Moviegoing is no longer the cheap excursion it was when my father did it in his youth, it’s a hard game of picking and choosing that in the end requires an individual to pay somewhere between eight and fourteen dollars for a ticket. When that movie is over, you want the movie to worth the price you just paid, and these days it is very hard to find a movie that makes forking over that absurd amount of money worthwhile. And with a line like the one above, it should be easy to see that Robert Lorenz’s Trouble With the Curve is not worth your money or something far more costly: Your time.
Making a big screen appearance for the first time since 2008 and starring in a film that he did not direct for the first time since 1993, megastar Clint Eastwood plays aging Atlanta Braves scout, Gus Lobel, who’s personal, professional, and familial issues decide to coincidentally collide over the course of a few days. If his fading eyesight wasn’t enough to cost him his job, younger scouts are now rising through the business resorting to a Moneyball-like scouting formula to base the team’s draft and trade decisions on. Braves General Manager, Vince (Robert Patrick), though partial to longtime partner Gus, is starting to feel that it is time to join the current century and phase out the older scouts, but Gus is spared thanks to Pete Klein (John Goodman). Pete places a weighty gamble on Gus who is in charge of scouting a popular up-and-coming player, but Gus promises that even with his handicap, he will deliver. On the familial end, Gus’ stubborn lawyer daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), who’s relationship with her father has always been tense and strained, is secretly requested by Pete to accompany her father to North Carolina and make sure he is capable of properly scouting and does not cost the Braves a major steal. Mickey reluctantly agrees, and she embarks on a father-daughter journey that strengthens her bond with Gus while also presenting Mickey with charming baseball player-turned-scout Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake) who may be the romantic encounter that she’s been looking for amidst her workaholic lifestyle.
All Trouble With the Curve needed to be acceptable was to incorporate its talented cast into a heartwarming sports drama and sprinkle some frilly rom-com in for good measure, but every single character is let down by a pointless, dull, and unforgivingly corny screenplay and poor direction that to be called amateurish would be a compliment. Randy Brown’s script honestly edges on being the worst screenplay of the year; it can’t decide whether it wants to be a sports film or romantic comedy and as a result of never fully committing to either, it’s just a pile of contrived mush that’s nothing short of boring. The story is one big giant yawn schmuckishly filmed by Tom Stern who, as surprising as it may sound due to his impressive résumé, looks like he’s never taken a cinematography course in his life. The entire film is horribly overexposed and a number of the shots are noticeably out of focus while the image is soaked in this odd, unattractive gray coating.
But my biggest questions regarding the film are for Mr. Eastwood himself. Eastwood stated that after 2008’s Gran Torino he would be primarily a director and wouldn’t return to the big screen as an actor unless the script was good enough…and this was the script that provoked the end to his short-lived retirement?! It’d be one thing if this empty hearted trash got him into the director’s chair as well because maybe he would have at least made the film visually appealing, but Clint allowed his inexperienced friend Robert Lorenz to call the film’s shots. Did he not see the dailies during production? Why did he never walk over to his friend and give him some friendly pointers. I’m sure Lorenz would not have minded, pointers from Clint Eastwood are pretty invaluable and even the smallest bit of advice that he could have provided Lorenz would have improved this sad excuse for a mainstream film.
Eastwood, on the other hand, is still a very gifted actor and there are a few scarce moments in the film that remind us of the filmmaker’s talent in front of the camera. Namely, there’s a scene where Gus goes to visit his late wife’s grave and, dialogue aside, it’s a very moving scene in the middle of a very emotionally barren film due to Eastwood’s compelling devotion to the scene. Plus, the role of Gus fits Eastwood like a glove; the disgruntled, stubborn, and irritated old man character is one that Eastwood has perfected over the last twenty years, probably since Unforgiven. On the supporting end, Justin Timberlake is definitely likeable, it’s just that his post-The Social Network projects have unfortunately been very lackluster. His Johnny Flanagan mainly suffers from ceaseless cheesy one-liners, and in any other well-written movie he would definitely make a great love interest for the equally as likeable Amy Adams. The bubbly and undeniably cute actress is one of many talents but her turn as Mickey surely won’t be remembered as one of her finer screen outings (mainly because it will be completely overshadowed by her remarkable turn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master). Again, her and Eastwood would make for a winning duo if they were given a worthwhile screenplay.
Trouble With the Curve is the stuff that disappointments are made of. With Clint Eastwood returning to the big screen one could only hope, and rightfully expect, a home run, but Trouble With the Curve is a bonefide strikeout. A sports drama that has nothing to do with sports, a romantic comedy that lacks any engaging romantics or true comedy, and a father-daughter character study that doesn’t understand how to construct good characters. Trouble With the Curve isn’t even worth a free screening because it robs 111 minutes from you. Trouble with the Curve needs to stay on the bench where it belongs.
Review by Michael Murphy