Clint Eastwood steps back into the acting box for “Trouble with the Curve,” and connects for an out-of-the-park performance as an aging baseball scout who's fighting to stay in the game.
This in spite of the fact that he's working with rookies — first-time screenwriter Randy Brown and longtime producing partner Robert Lorenz in his directorial debut — who throw easy and predictable narrative pitches to their players in a conventional and sometimes mawkish sports yarn with a troubled father-daughter relationship at its center.
Fortunately, these players are heavy hitters who seldom foul the ball.
Eastwood layers his temperamental Gus Lobel with just the right amount of crustiness, while three-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams (“The Fighter,” “Doubt,” “Junebug”) brings equal heat as Gus' adult daughter Mickey, an up-and-coming lawyer who's every bit as feisty and stubborn as her father and constantly at odds with him.
It seems Gus struck out as a single parent after the long-ago death of his wife, leaving Mickey to be raised by relatives she hardly knew. The two have never been close, and on the rare occasion when a breakthrough feels imminent, it seems Gus' attention is always diverted by the one thing Mickey believes to be most important to him: his job. After all, she is named after his favorite baseball player, Mickey Mantle.
But Gus is now entering his twilight years, and the veteran Atlanta Braves scout is starting to lose a vital tool of his trade — his eyesight. He's doing his best to hide his failing vision, but the front office is beginning to doubt his judgment thanks to an ambitious young numbers-cruncher in the organization (Matthew Lillard) who wants to edge out geezers like Gus in favor of computerized scouting. Gus still believes that observing a potential player's character, watching how he moves, and listening to the crack of his bat speaks volumes.
With one of the country's hottest batting wonders, blowhard Bo Gentry (newcomer Joe Massingill), up for the draft, scouting chief Pete Klein (John Goodman), who still has faith in Gus, persuades Mickey to tag along with her dad on his latest scouting trip and be his eyes. She reluctantly agrees, risking her own career to save her father's, and Gus has no choice in the matter.
Along the way they encounter Johnny Flanagan (an engaging Justin Timberlake), a once gifted pitcher, discovered by Gus, who is now trying his hand at scouting after prematurely blowing out his arm.
He's immediately attracted to Mickey, but she, like her father, has problems letting anyone get close to her. As Johnny wears down her defenses, he also tackles the difficult role of peacemaker between Mickey and her father.
In the bottom of the ninth, it all comes down to whether Gus can convince his bosses, despite the numbers, that boy-wonder Bo has trouble with curve balls that could prove disastrous in a moment of truth. But more importantly it comes down to dealing with life's curve balls, and placing family and emotional fulfillment above everything else.
This team, led by old pro Eastwood, brings all of that home for an easy win. If you're a sucker for a feel-good baseball movie, this one won't disappoint.
— Gene Triplett