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Clint Eastwood is very, very old.
That's the basic premise of "Trouble with the Curve." It's also the source of most of the movie's humor (he has trouble urinating, he despises computers -- hilarious!), its drama (he never learned how to properly relate to his feisty lawyer daughter played by Amy Adams, he's developing problems with his eyes -- sad!) and its conflict (he may lose his job as a recruiter for the Atlanta Braves because "times have changed" -- shameful!).
You see, Clint Eastwood is old. But dammit he still knows how to do his job better than anyone else, he really loves that daughter he can't have a conversation with, and he won't hesitate to put you in your place if you don't behave, junior. So go ahead and chuckle at the old man. He'll have the last laugh.
The broad, simplistic arc of "Trouble with the Curve" seems designed to complete Eastwood's transformation from Hollywood icon to human cartoon. He already did this shtick in "Gran Torino," and managed to find moments of subtlety and grace in between all the growling and one-liners. Now he's settling for the sitcom version: a mismatched buddy comedy fused with a father and daughter bonding story utterly lacking in spontaneity or surprise. If Eastwood wanted to reinforce the Grandpa Simpson comparisons he got after speaking at the Republican National Convention, "Trouble with the Curve" should do the trick. His character doesn't argue with an empty chair, but he does kick the crap out of a coffee table.
Why is Eastwood even in this uninspired nonsense? He barely acts anymore. He's appeared in only two movies in the past 10 years ("Million Dollar Baby" and "Gran Torino," both of which he directed) and made statements after each one that audiences may never see him on screen again. But "Trouble with the Curve" is the directorial debut of his longtime friend and producer Robert Lorenz, who apparently knew just how to lure Eastwood back in front of the camera.
It's too bad that the script by first-timer Randy Brown isn't any more sophisticated than a run-of-the-mill TV movie. The story of Eastwood's aging recruiter heading out on one last job to prove he's got the goods accompanied by his concerned and emotionally scarred daughter (Adams) would fit right in on Hallmark Hall of Fame, the only thing they'd have to change is one use of the f-word. You'll see the resolutions to every conflict, every relationship coming before the movie even starts.
Will Eastwood keep his job? Will he make amends with Adams? Will Adams tell her phony lawyer bosses to shove it? Will she let herself fall for the charming jokester played by Justin Timberlake? Will the humble peanut vendor with a wicked throwing arm turn out to be a better ballplayer than a conceited high school hot shot? Will Matthew Lillard undo all the professional progress he made in Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" with a single lazy sleazeball performance?
Since there isn't any insight or nuance to balance out the predictability, "Trouble with the Curve" would be too depressing to tolerate if he wasn't for the cast. Lorenz had the in with Eastwood and the rest of the ensemble must have fallen into place from there. From "The Muppets" to "The Master," Adams is one of the best actresses around. The lightly sketched role of a hardworking young woman still trying to mask the pain of her father abandoning her at an early age is something she can handle in her sleep. It wouldn't be surprising if she was asleep for half her scenes here, there's so little juice to any of the various relationships she's expected to develop. With the exception of a few sequences opposite Timberlake and a couple with Eastwood, the lifeless role is a grave misuse of her talents. "Trouble with the Curve" is better because she's in it, but it's hard to imagine anyone arguing she's better for having been in it.
There are less expectations for excellence with Timberlake, and he adapts perfectly well to the movie's undemanding requirements. If you need a young whippersnapper to bounce off Eastwood and credibly name check the Kardashians, there's no reason not to opt for the lively wisecracks and playful mugging Timberlake brings to the table. At least he injects some energy into a movie that badly needs it.
John Goodman, Robert Patrick and a handful of good character actors like Chelcie Ross and Bob Gunton hover around the sidelines in even less developed roles. There's no question people still want to work with Eastwood, but should audiences still want to watch him?
I think so, but not until he's back in something better than "Trouble with the Curve." At a certain point in the film Eastwood is all alone on screen in a scene that defines the movie for better or worse. He's sitting at his beloved deceased wife's gravestone and he sweetly starts to sing "You Are My Sunshine" in that distinctive gravelly voice. It's simultaneously touching and goofy, a moment that will make some viewers tear up and others run straight to YouTube to upload parody clips. But just as you think there may be something old-fashioned and lovely in the earnest way the film wears its heart on its sleeve, Lorenz blows the quiet impact of Eastwood's naked vulnerability by immediately following it with a few lines from Carly Simon's pristine studio recording.
It's just another small reminder that "Trouble with the Curve" is nothing but prefabricated schmaltz, ready to do all your feeling for you.
"Trouble with the Curve" opens nationwide on Sept. 21.