The bases certainly are loaded in “Trouble with the Curve”: it’s an insider baseball movie Ã la “Moneyball,” a father-daughter drama, and a romantic comedy. Working as a longtime producer and first assistant director for Clint Eastwood, director Robert Lorenz makes his workmanlike feature debut, rolling these three movies into one. Traces of a first-time-out filmmaker are sometimes evidentâ€”extraneous coverage and on-the-nose momentsâ€”and the material goes more for cornball, connect-the-dots formula than surprises, but neither of those flaws totally get in the way of its credible, appealing actors. It’s a safe bet that this won’t be in the running come awards season, but as slick, old-fashioned entertainment, it’s pleasantly safe and satisfying enough.
Clint Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, a crotchety baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves who’s losing his eyesight but still holds a love for the game. Another scout, the despicable Phillip (Matthew Lillard), who never steps out of the office and onto the field but tracks players’ stats via computers, thinks it’s time to put Gus out to pasture. So with a little push from his best buddy and scouting director, Pete (John Goodman), Gus’ equally stubborn 33-year-old daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) joins her dad in North Carolina to scout out a cocky minor-league prospect, Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill). Mickey is a diligent partner at a law firm, but she’s grown up watching baseball and knows all the ins and outs, even though she resents her old man for a history of neglect. Mickey and Gus have shared impersonal dinners every now and then, but she can never get him to open up about why he left her with an uncle she didn’t know at a young age. Maybe, just maybe, this will be their healing time. Your vision could be as blurry as Gus’ and you’ll still know where this is going.
As father and daughter, Eastwood and Adams are wholly likable screen company and, when centering on their relationship, they never let a moment ring false. Though taking a rest from calling the shots behind the camera, Eastwood pitches some octogenarian growling and grumbling (sounding a bit like Christian Bale’s Batman) and brings out his inner Dirty Harry in a bar scene. Gus is a lighter variation on Eastwood’s widowed Walt from “Gran Torino,” minus the racial slurs, cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and firearms, of course. The seasoned actor has enough sharp you-kids-and-your-computers humor and natural gravitas to make us care about the grump, who faces age and old demons. In playing Mickey, Adams is strong as usual. The character could have been an insufferable pain in the rump, as she is uptight, emotionally unavailable, and always working, but the actress rises above such stock characteristics. Moments where Gus and Mickey see other fatherless families at a restaurant or a hotel (a Mexican family is key), reminding them of their own semi-estranged relationship, are the opposite of subtle (we get it already!), but that’s the fault of the writing, not the actors.
Also in the game: Justin Timberlake, as Johnny “The Flame” Flanagan (Gus’ former protege, now a scout for the Red Sox), reels back the “J.T.” celebrity and keeps exhibiting acting chops with his relaxed, amiable presence. Of course, after Johnny and Mickey throw back shots, play baseball trivia, and go clogging at a bar, love is (apparently) in the air, but their romance is forced filler. Lillard and Goodman make do in their smallish roles, and Scott Eastwood (Clint’s son) briefly turns up early as a player.
Written by first-timer Randy Brown, the tidy screenplay doesn’t throw any curve balls (unless you count one dark corner involving a family secret that feels out of place when trying to rationalize Gus for his abandonment). Otherwise, every narrative thread goes in a direction as plain as the nose on your face and aims to tug at the heartstrings. The “villains” surely won’t get their way, father and daughter will mend their relationship, and there has to be a love interest to make Mickey’s leg pop. This is a mainstream, bow-wrapped package after all. But, even if it goes down as crusty Clint’s softest film, “Trouble with the Curve” has enough pleasures and such an earnest heart that it’s hard to call foul.
110 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: B –