Film Review: 'Trouble with the Curve' is it punts toward the end

Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros. Pictures,
Clint Eastwood is on top of his scowling and cantankerous game in the company of fellow major league baseball scout Justin Timberlake in a scene from "Trouble with the Curve."

Photo by Keith Bernstein

Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros. Pictures, Clint Eastwood is on top of his scowling and cantankerous game in the company of fellow major league baseball scout Justin Timberlake in a scene from "Trouble with the Curve."

In the first scene in "Trouble with the Curve," Clint Eastwood talks to a table, a can of Spam and his penis.

I never thought I'd miss that chair.

Later, in a graveyard, he chats with his wife's tombstone, and croaks out the lyrics to "You Are My Sunshine." Some of you may wipe tears from your eyes. Others may use your fingers to plug your ears.

"Trouble with the Curve" casts cantankerous old Clint as cantankerous old Gus, a baseball scout with failing eyesight and a failed relationship with the now-grown daughter (Amy Adams) he neglected after the death of her mother.

Gus Lobel has been one of the best scouts in baseball for decades, but age is starting to catch up with him and the front ...

Rating: PG-13 for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking

Length: 111 minutes

Released: September 21, 2012 Nationwide

Cast: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Matthew Lillard

Director: Robert Lorenz

Writer: Randy Brown

More info and showtimes »

Directed by Eastwood's longtime producing partner, Robert Lorenz, and scripted by newcomer Randy Brown, the movie functions as an anti-"Moneyball" for the Honus Wagner fan base. As if in response to the Michael Lewis best-seller and its hit film adaptation, "Trouble with the Curve" associates computerized statistical baseball analysis with evil, or at least smarminess, as embodied by an aggressively smirky Matthew Lillard.

Laptops, martinis and taverns with fireplaces are signifiers of decadence; decent Americans, meanwhile, drink beer from bottles in bars where the click of pool balls is music to a weary scout's ears — country music, that is, not that hippity-hop.

Unlike the whippersnappers in the Atlanta Braves clubhouse, Gus — described as "one of the best scouts baseball's ever seen" — has an intuitive feel for the ol' horsehide (and I'm not talking about his neck). Unfortunately, Braves management is thinking of putting the old boy out to pasture, in favor of a young plugged-in rival (Lillard) who knows all about what Gus disdains as "the Interweb."

With his career on the line, Gus heads to North Carolina to scout a cocky dimwit of a power hitter (Joe Massingill). His baseball savant turned workaholic lawyer daughter, Mickey (Adams), reluctantly agrees to tag along, to act as her dad's eyes, even though she's juggling an important and a needy boyfriend.

All this drama seems less important to Mickey after Gus introduces her to charming former pitching phenom Johnny "The Flame" Flannagan (Justin Timberlake), now a Red Sox scout with broadcast-booth dreams.For its first few innings, "Trouble with the Curve" is an enjoyably glossy crowd-pleaser, nicely calibrated to take full advantage of its 82-year-old star's signature scowls, growls, squints and slow burns. Unhappily, well before the final pitch (literally), the movie becomes so pat, so tidy and so absurd that it becomes an unwitting self-parody.

Everything — even Gus' "absent father" history — is explained and resolved and tied with a neat bow. Most egregiously, at a moment of crisis, Mickey discovers the best unsigned player in baseball literally right outside her motel room — she has to do nothing but wake up, look out her door, and see the kid playing catch.

Corn? There hasn't been this much corn on a ball field since Kevin Costner wandered through rural Iowa in "Field of Dreams."

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