(by Dustin Putman
"Trouble with the Curve" is one of those paint-by-numbers movies, its every aspect - the characters, the plot trajectory, the meet-cutes and falling-outs - just another box to check off for someone who has taken Screenwriting 101 a little too seriously. The respective debuts of helmer Robert Lorenz (Clint Eastwood's longtime first assistant director) and writer Randy Brown, the film pairs the grizzled Eastwood (2008's "Gran Torino") with the chameleonic Amy Adams (2012's "The Master") for a sudsy father-daughter dramedy that takes nearly two hours to go exactly where most viewers will be expecting it to. Predictability isn't necessarily the death knell of cinema, but "Trouble with the Curve" is constantly only doing the bare minimum required to get by. It is aggressively pleasant and quaintly dull all at once, and eventually its blandness gets the best of it. Article continues below
Professional baseball talent scout Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) is getting up there in age, and his eyes, stricken with macular degeneration and glaucoma, aren't what they used to be. Stubborn as always, Gus won't admit his career is probably winding down. Urged by family friend and colleague Pete Klein (John Goodman) to go help her pop out, Gus' 33-year-old attorney daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) heads to North Carolina for a few days to track the players of minor league team Grizzlies. On the verge of making partner at the firm she works at, Mickey vows not to let her job slide while she's out of the office. Pretty soon, she's wondering why she's come at all, her and Gus clashing every time she tries to have a serious conversation about long-lingering issues from her childhood. As the two of them spar, Mickey catches the eye of fellow scout and aspiring sportscaster Johnny (Justin Timberlake). His flirtations are not exactly subtle, but before long they're having a grand old time sucking back shots and clogging (yes, clogging).
After all these years, it remains a pleasure to see Clint Eastwood step in front of the camera (this is his first appearance in a film he hasn't also directed since Wolfgang Petersen's 1993 thriller "In the Line of Fire"). With that said, the grouchy, growling demeanor that has come with his advanced age has started to turn him into a caricature of himself. Eastwood is mighty effective at times - a scene that shouldn't work where he sings "You Are My Sunshine" to his wife's grave is touching in spite of its obvious heart-tugging - but he is just as apt to get unwanted laughs in scenes where he stumbles over coffee tables and throws them in frustration. Another such moment, following an argument with Mickey at a diner, has Eastwood asking no one in particular for the check, then pounding his fist while yelling, "Give me a goddamned check!" It's amazingly cornball, as is the idea that a person would instantly toss their phone in a dumpster the second they decide to quit their job. When it comes to "Trouble with the Curve," emotions have to be big or almost nonexistent; there is no middle ground.
As Mickey, Amy Adams is such a captivating presence (as usual) that her work is almost enough to overcome the picture's hamstrung deficiencies. Tough, intelligent and authoritative, but also overcome by a past that made her feel like she wasn't good enough after her mother died and her father sent her away, Adams is authentic and intuitive in her every moment. She shares a mild but surprising chemistry with Justin Timberlake (2011's "In Time"), as Johnny, who is more hit-and-miss in his performances. Sometimes he comes off as smarmy and has trouble disappearing into roles, while other times, such as here, he reels back the superstar persona and crafts a low-key, likable piece of work. If Mickey and Johnny look to be a good match, first they'll have to get over the arbitrary misunderstandings and temporary break-up the script artificially tosses their way. It doesn't feel anything less than forced.
"Trouble with the Curve" is attractively lensed by Tom Stern (2012's "The Hunger Games"), with Georgia standing in for rural North Carolina, and the trio of central players - Gus, Mickey and Johnny - are amiable company to be around. Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams make for a father and daughter one hopes can work out their differences if they don't let their stubbornness get in the way. There's little doubt of that happening, anyway, since the film dutifully follows a path so heavily trampled it's a wonder the last scenes don't take place in an empty field. Director Robert Lorenz means well, but "Trouble with the Curve" is so run-of-the-mill it is difficult to work up much enthusiasm or concern. Watching the film doesn't help pass the time so much as it helps to slow it down.