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Review: Trouble with the Curve

'To call this film corny would be an insult to corn.'

 

To call this film corny would be an insult to corn. I can’t remember the last time I saw a film so rife with trite, predictable Hollywood clichés and painfully strained hankie moments. Maybe Life as a House. Not a single scene progresses without some flavorless line of “inspirational” jargon spewed forth by a paper-thin character. The blandness is then punctuated by several scenes of weepy melodrama that would have Rob Reiner heading for the exits. Get this: there’s a scene early in the movie where the main character, played by an especially growly Clint Eastwood, recites the lyrics to “You Are My Sunshine” to his dead wife’s tombstone. Clint Eastwood reciting “You Are My Sunshine.” That’s the kind of moment that would typically only appear in a MAD Magazine spoof. In Robert Lorenz’s Trouble with the Curve, it’s played entirely straight.

Eastwood plays Gus, an aging baseball scout, who has been sent on the road to follow a talented and cocky high school student in order to see if he’ll be the next Big Thing. Eastwood’s lovable curmudgeon shtick is strained to the breaking point in Gus. Gus touts the virtues of watching baseball, and waxes rhapsodic about the beauty of the game and how it lies in little details. He openly rejects the new computer sciences that have been brought in by a cocky hotshot (Matthew Lillard), who prefers to analyze statistics. In this regard, Trouble with the Curve stands as an ultra-conservative, tradition-hammering antidote to last year’s Moneyball. Gus is on his last recruiting trip, as he is slowly going blind. The scenes of Gus ramming his car into his garage are played for Mr. Magoo-type laughs, but I couldn’t help but see the danger in his actions.

The central relationship in the film is between Gus and his estranged daughter Mickey (named after Mickey Mantle), played by Amy Adams. They have an unspoken and simmering resentment of one another, of course, but it’s nothing that can’t be cured by hitting a few rocks and drinking a few beers together. Mickey is a workaholic as well. You can tell because she’s always on her cell phone, which has become, in recent years, modern Hollywood’s laziest form of visual shorthand. If someone answers a phone while they’re with another person in a movie, it’s not merely a mild rudeness, it’s a full-blown pathology. The film then goes that extra step to show, after her catharsis, Mickey throwing her cell phone in a dumpster. But, but… She’s still a working woman. Won’t she just need another one at some point?

Mickey is also written as something of an ice queen, although the warm-featured and lovely Adams doesn’t really play her as such. Nonetheless, Mickey is given a love interest in the form of Justin Timberlake as an ex-ballplayer who aspires to be an announcer. Thank goodness Timberlake was in this film. He’s the only member of the cast (strong supporting actors like John Goodman, Bob Gunton, Lillard, and Robert Patrick notwithstanding) who seems to have any charm or personality here. Timberlake either doesn’t know any better than to play his role as gregarious, or he specifically and actively defied the tone of the film by offering something genuine. Either way, the only scenes that have any non-manufactured warmth are the ones with Timberlake. Yes, even the totally corny swimming scene wherein catharsis is achieved via underwater makeouts.

Gus is ostensibly our main character, but a moment’s thought proves the central problem with Trouble with the Curve: Gus is never wrong. Gus’s old-world view of baseball turned out to be right all along (“Sometimes you can hear it in the crack of the bat”), his cruelty to his daughter proves warranted, and his romantic advice is wisely heeded. He is seen simultaneously as a grumpy old coot and a wise old sage. I would argue that you can’t have it both ways.

This film is comfort food. A simple and reassuring flick for older audiences who don’t go to movies that often. I saw the film at a crowded premiere, and the audience ate it up.  Maybe I’ve seen too many movies. Maybe I’m too cynical. But Trouble with the Curve is troubling, stale pabulum.