“Can De Niro rap?”
The Atlanta Braves’ Turner Field outdoor gate security guard in Trouble with the Curve perfectly encapsulates the film. Sitting silently with his newspaper, you see him slowly lower it as Amy Adams‘ Mickey exits to answer Justin Timberlake‘s Johnny “The Flame” Flanigan’s flirtatious baseball trivia question. Like the guard, whenever the sport is onscreen—whether game action or verbal sparring—my interest piqued and I was able to invest in the plot of an aging scout going blind as he checks out the newest cocky high school prospect with his daughter. But as the two movie stars embrace in a kiss when she delivers the correct names, the tacked-on romantic subplot returns and I wished I had my security friend’s newspaper to cover my face and return to reading like him.
The first acting job star Clint Eastwood has taken without also sitting in the director’s chair since 1993’s In the Line of Fire, loyalty is proven to not always transform into success. Helmed by the legend’s regular First Assistant Director Robert Lorenz and written by Randy Brown, Trouble with the Curve is at best a made-for-TV movie riddled with relationship clichés and manipulative revelations better left unsaid. We’ve got the irony of Eastwood’s Gus being too blind to watch the game despite boss Pete (John Goodman) going to bat for him against hotshot numbers guy Phillip (Matthew Lillard) who stares at his computer screen instead hitting the field himself; the strained father/daughter rapport between Clint and Adams; and her struggle with continuing a path as a lawyer or getting into the sport she loves.
Throw in a dead mother, Mickey’s emotional unavailability as a result of Gus leaving her behind at a young age to travel for work, and his secret reason for blocking her from that lifestyle and you’ve got the sort of over-wrought, hamfisted plotline generally left to a cast owning a much weaker pedigree than the one involved here. Eastwood is great as gruff, emotionally stunted badass, but it’s too hard to believe him in times of vulnerability. Hearing him sing the first line to “You Are My Sunshine” while visiting his deceased wife’s grave is discomforting enough yet alone the fit of giggles hitting after he finishes the entire song. Scenes like this show the filmmakers’ hearts were in the right place, but their execution simply couldn’t match intention.
After all, we can only watch Mickey try to air grievances with her father to no avail so often before losing interest. She’s a successful lawyer throwing away a partnership opportunity with her firm to satisfy some long-dormant sense of responsibility towards a man who in her eyes showed none. We’ll eventually learn the contrived and overly dark proof he cared more than she’d ever known, but by that time Mickey has become a whining, passive aggressive story crutch. Yes, her being by Gus’s side is going to thaw their arctic freeze and baseball will provide the vehicle to connect them, but why the monotonous build-up? We don’t need an hour of misguided attempts leading to a blow out so close to the end that any reconciliation becomes too convenient for words.
Themes concerning the need to protect run rampant as we infer Gus tries harder to help the players he drafts than his own daughter while we’re hit over the head with baseball’s ability to turn Mickey’s depression around by giving her a Dad, a job, and a boyfriend all at once. Lucky girl! Hers is a poorly written character pretending to be a strong woman while really just a scared girl needing the men in her life to fix what’s wrong. It’s disconcerting to see how her strengths are constantly revealed to be coping mechanisms and her barrier to caring a lie. This film would have been much better if she truly was a woman no longer bothered by her father’s selfish indifference. If only her decision to help him keep his job was to show vindictive compassion rather than beg for forgiveness.
The patriarch finds unearned redemption he didn’t want while the tragic victim gets a hug—it’s excruciatingly patronizing. In fact, the only time this film works is when Gus and Mickey are working together without the inclusion of their personal lives. It’s fun watching them discover whether Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill) is worth the Braves’ first round pick with the humor of Gus’s scouting fraternity a welcome treat. Even Timberlake’s typecast appeal adds a nice layer to bridge home and business life despite the easy trope of having him fall in love with his old professional life father figure’s daughter. He will warm Adams’ heart and yours, while allowing a reprieve from the sentimental collision course we know is on its way.
And don’t even get me started with the clichéd payoff on behalf of peanut vendor/perfect son Rigo Sanchez (Jay Galloway). Boy, Lorenz and Brown really lacked inspiration on that one. I guess it was just par for the course, though, as these characters move towards a resolution already guessed at from the trailer. A baseball movie, romance, and family catharsis simultaneously, Trouble with the Curve fails to succeed in any facet. Eastwood should remain behind the camera and let nuance be handled by actors with range while Adams needs to have faith she’s better than weak feminine roles only playing at strength because they wear pantsuits and have a Blackberry. The only thing they’re doing here is showing their limitations—something both have earned the clout to never need to do again.
 (L-r) CLINT EASTWOOD as Gus and JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE as Johnny in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Keith Bernstein
 (L-r) JOHN GOODMAN as Pete Klein, AMY ADAMS as Mickey and CLINT EASTWOOD as Gus in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Keith Bernstein
 (R) SCOTT EASTWOOD as Billy Clark in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Keith Bernstein