BY BRIAN GARDNER
Clint Eastwood’s empty chair has a cameo in his latest movie Trouble with the Curve. As the aging baseball scout Gus (played by Eastwood) begins to lose his eyesight, he angrily kicks every piece of furniture in his path out of fear and frustration. Others along his path include his daughter Mickey, played by Amy Adams, his supervisor Pete Klein, played with the usual aplomb by John Goodman, and rival scout Johnny (Justin Timberlake).
Diminished eyesight to a baseball scout is like a painter losing her arms. It’s the sine qua non of assessing the talents of aspiring young ball players and determining if they have the skills to make it to the Major Leagues. Gus has been the leading scout of the Atlanta Braves since Josie Wales was an outlaw. But Gus is an old school scout in a high tech world. He prefers piles of newspaper to computers to gather essential data on his scouting prospects. “You have to SEE a player to know if he can hit,” Gus barks to anyone who will listen. This movie could be seen as a rebuttal to Moneyball and its reliance on sabermetrics and digital information to evaluate talent. Gus could have been one of the scouts in Moneyball bemoaning the shift to computers and away from the human element of up close observation.
Mickey (Adams) is a type AAA young lawyer in a large Atlanta law firm who worked “every Saturday for the last seven years “ in order to make partner. At the precipice of her promotion she is drawn away from the office in order to be with Gus as her father makes one last glorious road trip to assess the hottest hitting prospect in years. With her eyes and his instinct, it’s a perfect match. Or so it seems. But father and daughter have unresolved issues which bubble painfully to the surface.
On the periphery of the grizzled gaggle of scouts who sit together during each game is Johnny (Timberlake), who is at least 30 years younger and ten times better looking than any other scout. It would take neither keen eyesight nor insight to see that some connection between Mickey and Johnny will develop. In order to not pick up on the attraction Johnny has for Mickey one would need to be deaf , dumb and blind and not play a mean pinball. And this is where this movie with so much promise and such an outstanding cast fails to knock it out of the park.
Trouble with the Curve has as much subtlety as 3-0 fast ball thrown over the middle of the plate. Part of the effectiveness of a baseball pitchers curve ball is that the batter doesn’t know when it is coming. Similarly, a good story keeps an audience guessing. Unfortunately the trouble with Trouble with the Curve is that all the guess work is gone. Gus kicks an obtrusive chair, table and coffee table because he can’t see them. His failing eyesight causes him to burn dinner and wreck his car backing out of the garage. He goes to his Doctor for an eye exam. WE GET IT! He is going blind and is not happy about it. The audience was poised to kick their chairs in equal frustration over the ponderousness of the point.
While so much more could have been done with this story and cast, it does redeem itself in dealing with the difficulties of fathers and daughters communicating effectively. Like many dads, Gus uses sports as a medium to communicate when his skills otherwise fall short. He can’t talk to his daughter directly about difficult topics but can use baseball as a metaphor for life’s lessons. Generally they are speaking different languages, but can only truly communicate when talking baseball.
Perhaps the movie’s best acting performance is when Timberlake is in a local bar pretending not to be able to dance. Or when the actor portraying the stiff , detached and colorless Bud Selig, Commissioner of Major League Baseball turns out to be, Bud Selig. With this story and outstanding cast, Trouble promised to be the equivalent a seven game World Series with an extra inning finish. While falling short of that mark, the latter part of the movie improves greatly and provides the pacing punch that’s entirely missing for the first hour.
Trouble with the Curve provides few curves or twists but does provide some thoughtful entertainment and reflection upon aging and relationships, two things that give all of us trouble.