By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Clint Eastwood’s “Trouble With the Curve” has nothing to do with his recent Trouble with the Chair.
Except, I guess, that he’s in full Crusty Old Coot mode in both — sort of Dirty Harry as played by Walter Brennan.
This is full-press “Gran Torino” territory, with the modified Clint squint and lip-curl. As Gus, an aging scout for the Atlanta Braves, he doesn’t want to face up to his failing eyesight and aching bones. But an old pal (John Goodman) in management knows that Gus just isn’t up to snuff anymore. Rather than force him to retire, he convinces Gus’s reluctant daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), to go on the road with him.
Unfortunately, the two don’t get along very well — to say nothing of her own career as a rising lawyer in an important Atlanta law firm. But she knows just as much about baseball as Gus does; after all she was named after Mickey Mantle. So off she goes.
Much like sparring partners in a buddy movie, they quarrel, they stew and, eventually, they come together. That Justin Timberlake plays another scout (who was helped early in his career by Gus) for a rival team complicates things even more.
“Trouble With the Curve” doesn’t rank with Eastwood’s best movies. It doesn’t even rank with Timberlake’s best movies. And anyone expecting a whole lot of Braves stuff will be disappointed.
What the picture does offer is an old-fashioned charm. It’s almost gentlemanly in the way it lays out its hardly-surprising plot “twists.” The jokes are mostly gentle, too.
Timberlake plays a version of Timberlake, which is just fine by me. And Adams does her Oscar chances a big favor by having both this and “The Master” in movie theaters at the same time. Her frustrated but loving daughter couldn’t be more different from the frustrated yet steely-eyed wife she plays in Paul Thomas Anderson’s take on Scientology.
As for Eastwood, his performance is a kind late-career curveball that gracefully cedes the spotlight to the younger generation. He did something of the same thing in “Million Dollar Baby,” but back then, he kept Morgan Freeman on hand — just to remind us that Hilary swank wasn’t the whole movie.
“Trouble With the Curve” isn’t the swing for the fences that “Unforgiven” or “Mystic River” were. It’s easier, more relaxed. Eastwood just wants us to enjoy ourselves, as we might on a lazy day at Spring Practice.
Bottom line: They don’t make ‘em like Eastwood anymore. And an oddball moment with an empty chair only reminds us he’s only human — and just as likely as anyone else to have trouble with the curve.