By Claudia Puig, USA TODAY
Its title notwithstanding, there's nothing that remotely approaches a narrative curve ball in this tired saga of an aging baseball scout.
And Clint Eastwood's crotchety character in Trouble with the Curve (** out of four; PG-13; opens Friday nationwide) feels remarkably similar to his cranky curmudgeon in 2008's Gran Torino. Though instead of being a crusty old car aficionado in Detroit, here he's an aged Southerner with a bad case of irritable ball-scout syndrome.
Everything about this story (which Eastwood did not direct or write) follows the most obvious road map. Even his character's name is a glaringly conventional choice: Gus. Is there a more obvious moniker for a grumpy old guy?
While he may have been one of the best in the business for decades, Gus can't seem to get along with his adult daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), refuses to pay attention to his doctor and snarls at anyone who asks him to play nice.
A veteran scout for the Atlanta Braves, Gus is fighting a losing battle with his eyesight, but he's determined to remain on the job. Macular degeneration would seem to be a major handicap in his line of work, but luckily Gus can tell a good pitch just by the crack of the bat.
Phillip (Matthew Lillard), an official in the Braves' front office, wants to bench Gus permanently. But Gus' longtime boss and pal, Pete (John Goodman), has the perspective to see that Gus has still got it -- even if he's a bitter pill to deal with.
And speaking of bitter, Mickey (named for Mickey Mantle) is nursing decades' worth of resentment against the father who was rarely there for her. He dumped her with distant relatives after her mom died and dragged her along on baseball scouting trips only when no other option presented itself. Gus is not only grouchy, he is selfish and withholding.
Still, we're meant to see past his crusty exterior because he has convivial drinking matches with his fellow scouts and is proud of Mickey's position as an attorney for an Atlanta law firm, where she's gunning for partner. He just doesn't show her any paternal warmth.
But for warmth there's Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a former baseball player championed by Gus, now sidelined by an injury. He's a scout who yearns to be an announcer, with a genuine affection for Gus and a growing attraction to Mickey. She joins her dad on a trip to North Carolina, jeopardizing her own career, in response to the concerns of Pete about Gus' health.
It's pretty clear that a romance is in the offing, though Adams and Timberlake don't have much chemistry. It's also glaringly evident that some kind of reconciliation looms between father and daughter.
Despite her usually nimble ways with comedy or drama, Adams can't seem to find her footing in this formulaic saga. Her character is limited to making tentative overtures, then giving up too soon and storming out of rooms, restaurants or bars, leaving her dad grumpier than ever. Timberlake fares better, bringing some comic charm to a rather ho-hum part.
As a filmmaker, Eastwood is a national treasure. But in his first acting role in four years, the 82-year-old seems to be going through the cantankerous motions. The film's efforts at comedy are more sadly cringe-inducing than anything else. Gus' eyesight is so bad that he burns the hamburgers he cooks and crashes into cars. There's a laugh riot.
It was more fun, and certainly less predictable, watching him address an empty chair at the Republican convention.