For what it is, it no doubt succeeds. It's just that Eastwood usually strives for something more.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

"Get out of here before I have a heart attack trying to kill you."

It's Eastwood light.

This 2012 picture with Clint Eastwood, "Trouble with the Curve," is an almost nondescript trifle, a featherweight piece of fluff in danger of floating off on the breeze at any moment.  Maybe the problem is that it's the first film in years Eastwood didn't direct.  It needs a stronger, firmer, more imaginative force behind it.  In fact, if it didn't star Eastwood, we might not even have a picture, it's that inconsequential.

You know a movie's in trouble when you see a stamp in the front corner of the keep case saying it's received a Heartland "Truly Moving Picture" Award.  I suppose I'm just a cynic because for me, that's like saying it's a Lifetime Channel Movie-of-the-Week.  There's nothing seriously wrong with the film; it's just going to be innocuous and predictable.  In this case, "Trouble with the Curve" is pleasantly saccharine, filled with agreeable but empty calories.

The film marks the first time since 1993's "In the Line of Fire" that Eastwood hasn't directed himself.  The movie's director, Robert Lorenz, has worked extensively with Eastwood in the past but as a producer, second-unit director, or assistant director.  Here, Lorenz makes his big-screen directorial debut.  Likewise, it's a first film for screenwriter Randy Brown, so Eastwood must have had a lot of confidence in these newcomers to put himself in their hands.  They don't do much to justify his confidence in them, though, turning out a fairly bland product.  Maybe the director and writer were both beset with first-time jitters and wanted to play things as safely as possible.

Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, an aging baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves, a man with a natural instinct for the game.  His character seems quite similar the one he played in "Gran Torino":  widowed, crabby, set in his ways, suspicious of modern contraptions like computers.  Growing old ain't easy, he appears to be saying, especially for a guy like Gus.  He's having trouble peeing, trouble backing his car out of the garage, trouble with his vision.  Everybody wants him to retire, but Gus knows no other life and will have none of it.  He refuses everyone's help, even the advice of his doctor.

Amy Adams plays Gus's daughter, Mickey Lobel, also single, a character much like her father: feisty, often testy, a corporate lawyer trying to get a big promotion to a partnership in her firm.  She and her father don't get along, and they hardly ever see each other.

Gus heads off on an important scouting trip, and his best friend, Pete Klein (John Goodman), persuades Mickey to go along with him, just in case Gus can't handle things anymore.  Gus resents it, at least at first.  During the trip, a sort of father-daughter bonding thing, Mickey meets Johnny Flannigan (Justin Timberlake), an ex-baseball pitcher, now a scout for a rival team, and, of course, they slowly, reluctantly, recognize that their mutual knowledge of and love for baseball must inevitably bring them together.

So, there you have it.  There's not much more.  A few conflicts arise involving a hotshot Braves scout (Matthew Lillard) trying to muscle in on Gus's territory and nudge him out of the game; and the team owner (Robert Patrick) trying to decide whether to renew Gus's contract or not.  You can guess almost everything that's going to happen about an hour before it does happen.

The movie ambles slowly along, taking its leisurely time, much as an older person might do walking through a shopping mall and much like the old-timer Eastwood plays.  Fortunately, Eastwood is always fun to watch, and his charisma, even at eighty-odd years, pretty much holds the picture together.  Clint still looks spry for his age, trim and athletic; Adams is perky and lovely; and Timberlake is charming.  So there's no problem with the characters except that they are so generally vapid.

"Trouble with the Curve" is a sentimental tale, sometimes downright gooey.  We've seen Eastwood's grumpy old man act before, so it's no revelation.  The movie becomes a kind of soap opera before long--a pleasant, mostly upbeat one, but without much substance.

Despite using a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4/AVC codec to transfer the movie to high-definition Blu-ray in its native aspect ratio, 2.40:1, the results are iffy.  There's a degree of softness and fuzziness in a number of scenes that I suspect result from the original print.  Close-ups are fine; longer shots strike one as being less well detailed.  Colors, however, look excellent, very natural, very lifelike, if a tad bright on occasion.  Solid black levels help to set off the hues well.

There is not a lot of work the lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio has to do, given that most of the soundtrack consists of dialogue and balmy, largely insipid background music.  The audio works OK, although like the PQ, it's slightly soft.  A few noises show up in the surrounds, like a baseball bouncing off a roof behind us, but mostly this is a low-key aural affair.

For primary extras we get only two, brief, making-of featurettes.  The first, "Trouble with the Curve:  Rising Through the Ranks," is about four-and-a-half minutes on the director, Robert Lorenz, rising to the directorship of his first film.  The second featurette, "Trouble with the Curve:  For the Love of the Game," about six minutes, further explains the characters played by Eastwood, Adams, and Timberlake.  Both featurettes are about as featherweight as the movie.

Next, we get ten scene selections; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages;
French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Finally, because this is a Combo Pack, it contains the movie in high definition on a Blu-ray disc, the movie in standard definition on a DVD, and access to the movie via UltraViolet for download or streaming (the UltraViolet offer expiring December 18, 2014).  The two discs come housed in a flimsy Blu-ray Eco-case, further enclosed in a light-cardboard slipcover. 

Parting Shots:
"Trouble with the Curve" explores no new territory for Eastwood, offers no inside glimpses into his movie character or the sport of baseball, and provides no meaningful insights into the relationships it describes.  Instead, the movie plays everything safely, content to present a sweet, gentle story with obvious but easily overcome obstacles culminating in an unlikely ending that is, nevertheless, probably satisfying for most undiscriminating viewers.  In other words, "Trouble with the Curve" is a frothy, sugarcoated dessert, a bon-bon that's heavy on calories yet in no way nourishing to body or soul.  For what it is, it no doubt succeeds.  It's just that Eastwood usually strives for something more.

"Anybody who uses computers doesn't know a damn thing about this game."


Film Value