By CHRISTOPHER LAWRENCE
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Clint Eastwood doesn’t argue with a chair. Doesn’t get into a tussle with a futon. Doesn’t threaten to kick the stuffing out of an ottoman.
Any fears that may have arisen out of his infamous appearance at the Republican National Convention can be put to rest: “Trouble with the Curve” showcases the Eastwood audiences have come to know and love over the past decade or so.
He’s Hollywood’s favorite grumpy old man, and he’s every much an American institution as baseball, the sport to which his character, Gus Lobel, has dedicated his life — to the detriment of everything else.
Gus was in the twilight of his legendary scouting career even before he started going, in his words, “blind as a slab of concrete.” Factions within the Atlanta Braves no longer value his opinion. With his contract up in 90 days, his trip through North Carolina to evaluate the year’s most-coveted draft pick — an unappealing lump of entitlement the front office can’t wait to sign — could be his last.
The team’s weasly associate scouting director (Matthew Lillard) openly mocks Gus’ old-school ways — actually going to see players in person, getting to know their tendencies, hearing the way the ball comes off their bats — that don’t involve computer models.
“Trouble with the Curve” is the anti-“Moneyball.” It’s as though someone saw all the old coots getting riled up by Brad Pitt’s new-fangled ways and said, “Now there’s the movie I’d rather see.”
With everything that’s riding on this scouting trip and worried about Gus’ health, his boss and friend of 30 years (an always-welcome John Goodman) reaches out to Gus’ estranged daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams) — named after Mantle, natch.
Mickey reluctantly joins him on the road, despite being wrapped up in a huge case that could deliver her long-awaited partnership at an Atlanta law firm, and despite Gus’ blunt and repeated insistence that she leave him the hell alone.
Along the way, they run into rival scout Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), a pitcher Gus scouted who could throw the cover off the ball until a torn rotator cuff ended his brief but promising career.
There’s not much to Randy Brown’s simple, straightforward story — his first for the big screen — but it makes for a genial, feel-good crowd-pleaser.
Since they’re the only people without an AARP card staying at the rural Grey Squirrel Motel, Mickey and Johnny are bound to fall in love. Or at least stumble somewhere near it.
It’s hard to care whether they get there, though. Adams is a trouper, and Timberlake has charm to spare. But “Trouble with the Curve” has some trouble with the dialogue. At least when it tries to convey their blossoming romance. Eastwood had more chemistry with that infernal chair.
But it’s just as well. This is clearly Eastwood’s movie, and he’s in good hands. Team Eastwood is out in full force, with his longtime producing partner Robert Lorenz making his feature directing debut, alongside Eastwood’s customary band of executive producer, director of photography, production designer, costume designer and editors.
At this point, Eastwood has become the Rolling Stones of acting. You know his moves. You know he’s going to give you all the hits. And you’re glad for it. You didn’t show up to hear the new stuff.
The snarl? “Start Me Up.” The growl? “Honky Tonk Women.” The famed Clint Squint? That’s his “Satisfaction.”
And, like the Stones, he still puts on a damn fine show that’s a must-see whenever it comes to town, because you just never know which one is going to be his last.
Christopher Lawrence is the film critic for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at clawrence@ reviewjournal.com.