‘Curve’ has its charm, but telegraphs too much

09/21/2012 7:44 AM

09/21/2012 7:46 AM

“Trouble With the Curve” is a baseball dramedy that telegraphs its pitches, an amiable, meandering character study whose big plot points hang there like the curveballs of its title. We see them coming a long time before they cross the plate.

It has the faded twinkle of late-period Clint Eastwood, rasping through another curmudgeon role — embracing, one more time, his role as America’s Coot. The film has its charm, but it’s neither as graceful nor as spare as a movie Eastwood himself would have directed.

Clint plays a chatty old cuss named Gus Lobel, legendary scout for the Atlanta Braves. His boss (John Goodman) ticks off the superstars he discovered and insists “Gus could spot talent from an airplane.”

But America’s Team’s greatest scout is an anachronism, a “feel” and “sound” guy in an age of computer-accessible statistics. And he’s losing his sight. The new punk in the clubhouse (Matthew Lillard of “The Descendants”) wants him put out to pasture.

Gus has an ambitious, flinty and blunt daughter (Amy Adams), a 33-year-old lawyer not unlike him. She’s gunning for partnership in an Atlanta firm, has ambivalent (at best) feelings for the old man, but is somehow cajoled into joining Gus for one last spring scouting trip to the Carolinas. That feels contrived because it is.

Justin Timberlake is a former Gus discovery now working as a scout for another organization. Bob Gunton and Ed Lauter are among the cadre of aged scouts Gus considers peers.

And Joe Massingill is the brawny braggart of a high school power hitter that they’re up there to watch.

Eastwood the director would have slashed a lot of Gus’ dreary old-guy-out-of-touch-with-the-“Interwebs” jokes, his retire and “play bingo, drinking little umbrella drinks” cracks. It takes one scene to establish the prospect they’re scouting as a boor with no respect for the game. A single bar visit with “the gang” of scouts would establish their cliched characters.

But Randy Brown’s script revisits the bars, the jerk-kid, time and again. It shows us more games than we need to see. It underlines “foreshadowing” with a magic marker, adds “big secrets” to relationships and shoehorns in sentimental slop.

It goes on and on, establishing the obvious, then underlining the obvious with Robert Lorenz’s leisurely direction. Lorenz was Eastwood’s second-unit director on “Million Dollar Baby,” which explains how Clint was called from retirement to do the role. It doesn’t explain why Lorenz embraced Eastwood’s love of graceful, jazz-solo pacing but not his disdain for the unnecessary.

Adams is cute, and Timberlake, sort of the romantic-comedy relief here, sparks the film to life. But watch Adams keep a flop of hair over one eye, watch her “act.” We see the performance, something she normally never lets us do.

Clint trips and stumbles. He curses in a quivering rasp. And when he makes his move to the plate, his windup is so slow we see the joke long before it leaves the mound.

That’s not saying that “Trouble” doesn’t have its charms. Like baseball itself, it is meant to feel out of its time. But the pastiche they piece together here wears on the patience and will have all but Eastwood’s most diehard fans staring at their watches before the seventh inning stretch.

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