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MOVIE REVIEW: "Trouble with the Curve" 

Baseball and sentiment

In his last public appearance, Clint Eastwood achieved the most memorable moment at this year's Republican National Convention by addressing an empty chair; news stories about the event mentioned his age — 82 — unkindly insinuating that the actor perhaps exhibited signs of senility. Whatever the source of his presentation, he does seem to have forgotten his previous announcement that he was retiring from acting after "Gran Torino."

In fact, in his new movie, "Trouble with the Curve," Eastwood pretty much recycles that performance from "Gran Torino," another irascible old coot out of touch with the times. In the new picture he plays Gus Lobel, a scout for the Atlanta Braves, who practices his trade the old fashioned way, analyzing not only a prospect's talent and potential, but also judging his character, that important array of qualities often called heart. Gus refuses to use the computers that obsess so many students of the game, who couldn't tell a catcher's mask from a fungo bat, but prove by algebra that Ty Cobb couldn't hit .300 today or that Jackie Robinson really didn't belong in the major leagues.

Gus's intransigence makes him a dinosaur among his colleagues and a dubious asset to his employers, who think he's lost his touch and plan to retire him when his contract ends. More important, Gus's vision is deteriorating, but when his doctor tells him that he suffers from macular degeneration, Gus rejects the diagnosis and stubbornly plows on, tripping over furniture and scraping his car against garage walls and other vehicles.

As in previous Eastwood movies, like "Million Dollar Baby," and "Gran Torino," the emotional component of the story grows out of a relationship between the crusty old man and a young woman, in this case Gus's daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), an ambitious attorney who blames her widowed father for a childhood and adolescence marred by his absence. Though bitter and angry, she reluctantly agrees to the request of Gus's friend and immediate boss, Pete Klein (John Goodman), to accompany and assist her father on the last scouting trip of the season, a journey following the fortunes of a team in the low minor leagues.

The script then settles into a repetitive series of quarrels between Gus and Mickey, which reveals some of the reasons for their estrangement. Another relationship develops between Mickey and a scout for the Red Sox, a former pitcher for the Sox initially signed by her father, John "The Flame" Flanagan (Justin Timberlake); his arm ruined by overuse, John hopes to get back into the game as an announcer.

Before everything turns out for the best, a number of entirely predictable misunderstandings develop for the three major characters, some of them actually involving baseball, after all the nominal subject of the picture. Both the Braves and the Red Sox seek to draft a young slugger, a thoroughly obnoxious hot dog named Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill), a choice that grows increasingly complicated for all the people in the film, including the front-office people who employ Gus. It even manages to ruin the incipient love affair between Mickey and John.

"Trouble with the Curve" shows some insight into the life of a baseball scout traveling through the minor leagues in the rural South — the shabby motels and diners and bars, the loudmouth fans and country music, the stretches of tedium during meaningless games; it also suggests at least a few of the ways a scout judges a ballplayer. In addition it provides a number of postcard scenes of late summer in the lovely countryside of the Carolina League, as the leaves begin to turn and the season winds down.

Given the familiar performance from Eastwood, the familiar problematic relationship between the old man and the daughter figure, the formulaic nature of the script, very little else distinguishes the movie. Perky and smart, Amy Adams performs with competence if not brilliance, but the real surprise of the picture is Justin Timberlake, who does a nice job as the former pitcher who blew out his arm. Timberlake exhibits an engaging self-deprecation, handles some witty dialogue with an offhand grace, and hints at some of the heartbreak in the failure of a promising career, the dark side of baseball.

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