Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Anti-Moneyball: TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE


A sturdy Hollywood drama, Trouble with the Curve is glossy and serviceable, even if it is utterly predictable every single step of the way. It’s a relatively good-natured anti-Moneyball, focusing on the value of hearing the crack of the bat and the thwack of the catch over tabulating stats. But you are mistaken if you thought a top-notch cast featuring Clint Eastwood as an elderly baseball scout and Amy Adams as his concerned daughter, as well as Justin Timberlake as a young scout and John Goodman, Matthew Lillard, and Robert Patrick as the guys back at the home office, would be able to elevate this material beyond simple American-pastime sentimentality and a schematic plotline that seems to be always pretending to have found surprises when it’s really only flatly arrived at the same old clichés.

Eastwood’s doing a cantankerous-old-guy routine that’s almost too broad, but rings true. When he falls going up ballpark steps he hops up and snarls at concerned passerby “Haven’t you ever seen a man trip before?” Adams, as his daughter, learns from one of his co-workers, a family friend (Goodman), about her father’s failing eyesight and his stubborn refusal to admit it to his employers. Despite being up for a big promotion at her law firm, she flies into town to spend some time with him as he scouts a promising high school ballplayer (Joe Massingill). She ends up slyly helping him with his job, being his eyes where he can’t quite see. It’s not often a film looks so warmly on a father-daughter relationship so, even though their relationship is certainly strained in some ways, it’s nice to see.

Their relationship is one of familiarity, of unspoken affection and needling expectations from both ends. They’re facing similar professional problems – rooms of suits debating their fates – and there’s a nice parallel in the way they both don’t quite want to admit how much each needs the other. It’s pleasant and forms a loose core of emotional truth around which the film can spin its lazy sentimentality, coasting on the charms of the cast even as it wobbles through a half-convincing romantic subplot (why else do you think Timberlake’s hanging around?) and brief looks into the arrogance of the player being scouted. Hey, something has to fill out the run time, although an out-of-place revelation that involves a flashback intercut with a young Eastwood played by footage of Eastwood himself in Dirty Harry is the only inclusion that feels just plain wrong. Otherwise, it's a film that's constantly reaching predictable moments and playing them with a surprising lack of energy.

First-time director Robert Lorenz (he produced many of Eastwood’s directorial efforts over the last couple of decades) takes first-time screenwriter Randy Brown’s low-key low-stakes writing and executes it professionally. Unfortunately, it’s the storytelling equivalent of a bunt. Wouldn’t it be more impressive to swing for the fences? Of course it would. But this isn’t a movie that’s built to hit it out of the park, not with every scene playing as a flat stepping stone to the next predictable plot point. There’s nothing much that can be done when everyone involved is playing it so safe. It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with the work the filmmakers and the cast are doing; it’s that there’s nothing particularly lively, compelling or memorable about the story and characters at its core.

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