Let's get this joke out of the way now: During "Trouble with the Curve," Clint Eastwood bumps into an empty chair and gets angry with it. Now that we got that easy chuckle out of the way, let's talk about why "Trouble with the Curve" is one of the most annoying films I've seen in 2012.
I'll be honest; I hated this film. I hated its glaringly fake attempts at being a baseball movie. I hated its cliché and predictable story lines. Most of all, I hated its smug, self-satisfied schmaltziness that tries so hard to be crowd-pleasing that I wanted to walk out of the theater just to prove a point.
It may not be the worst movie of the year – that title's still all yours, "Branded" – but it's been a while since I've been this annoyed walking out of a movie theater.
Clint Eastwood plays Gus, a grumpy old baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves. Times are hard for Gus; his latest batch of prospects couldn't hit water if they fell out of a boat, and the club's management – including a young go-getter (an intolerably smarmy Matthew Lillard) who thinks computers are useful and is therefore a terrible person – thinks Gus should retire. Worst of all, Gus's eyesight is going, making watching the games – and avoiding furniture – difficult.
Thanks to his boss and good friend (a pleasant John Goodman), Gus has one last chance to keep his job. The Braves want him to scout a possible prospect worth the top pick in the draft. In order to make sure he gets the job done, Goodman also calls Gus's estranged daughter, a sharp young lawyer named Mickey (Amy Adams), to help him scout. This is a problem since Gus was a deadbeat dad and hasn't gotten much better with age.
First-time screenwriter Randy Brown writes each character with the nuance and subtlety of a nuclear bomb. The script makes sure the film's bad guys – including Lillard, the diva-in-training prospect and Mickey's rival at work – are less like actual people and more like obnoxiously rude cartoons. Think of the family from "Gran Torino" but on steroids.
It's all a ploy to make their inevitable fall more satisfying. The problem is "Trouble with the Curve" so often cloyingly persists in making the audience hate these people that the film feels smugger and more arrogant than the movie's antagonists. It doesn't help that the ending makes sure everything comes up saccharinely sweet for everybody, logic be damned.
One of the biggest issues with Brown and director Robert Lorenz's plan is that their main character isn't much more likable than their over-the-top villains. Eastwood reprises his charming old grouch routine one more time, except without any of the charm.
Gus is frankly just an unpleasant person. He treats his persistently caring daughter like trash, he risks his life and others by driving almost blind and refusing treatment, and he's provably not good at his job (though a late twist involving the film's title implies that no one in baseball is particularly good at their job). He isn't given any clever lines either, just the usual grunts about yoga.
When "Trouble with the Curve" does get around to explaining Eastwood's grumpy nature, it results in a jaw-dropping dark twist that's tonally off from almost everything else in the film. Worst of all, it doesn't help make his character more likable or relatable.
The twist seems even more out of place considering how unapologetically hokey the movie is. The story is absurdly cliché – especially Adams' story arc, which shamelessly rehashes the "work vs. family" tale with almost nothing new or interesting. There's also a romantic subplot with a young scout, played by Justin Timberlake, that is just as trite but contains some of the film's better lines.
When done right, schmaltz and hokum can be fun and satisfying. Unfortunately, Lorenz has no control on how much is too much. It was already nearing the limit when Gus began singing "You Are My Sunshine" at his wife's grave, but playing the song afterwards to end the scene is diabetes-inducing sweet. I don't even want to mention the humble peanut vendor who turns out to secretly be Roy Halladay.
The whole movie actually feels laughably quaint, especially in a post-"Moneyball" universe. Miller's Best Picture nominee knew the grit of the game as well as the business smarts side. Besides a few trivia questions and some sweet old photos of the Milwaukee Braves, "Trouble with the Curve" seems wildly inauthentic, especially when it's on the field. The players' interactions feel like something from a bad direct-to-DVD "The Sandlot" knock-off, the baseball talk rings false and even the extras don't seem right.
Originally, 2008's "Gran Torino" was supposed to be Eastwood's final performance on screen, but he came out of retirement to act in this film for Lorenz, his long-time collaborator. He should have stayed behind the camera because "Trouble with the Curve" is one incredibly foul ball.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Sept. 15, 2014
The title of The War on Drugs' latest album is "Lost in the Dream," fitting for a record - and a moment in time - that utterly enveloped front man Adam Granduciel. The band is now taking the final product on the road, including a stop at The Pabst Theater on Sunday, Sept. 21. Before then, Granduciel chatted with OnMilwaukee.com about becoming a real band on the road, the process behind the album and the inner battles that went into it.
Published Sept. 14, 2014
It's hard to imagine there was much clamoring for a sequel to "Dolphin Tale." The first film was a modest early fall success back in 2011, but even then, the story of Winter the dolphin was already fairly thin dramatic material, serving as little more than a nice pleasant aside. Still, somebody thought it was a good idea to head back to the well, and surprisingly - judging from "Dolphin Tale 2" - that person wasn't wrong.
Published Sept. 12, 2014
The Brewers are desperately trying to pull themselves out of a devastating tailspin. Even when they win, they seem to lose - as evidenced by last night's Giancarlo Stanton debacle. Sounds like a good time to get baseball's favorite canine Hank the Dog back in the spotlight!
Published Sept. 10, 2014
The country-tinged rock duo of Phil Leavitt and Joie Calio worked together for years in the band Dada. 7Horse, however, marks a fairly new project for the guys. And there are certainly worse things to put on an early band's resume than being associated with an Oscar-nominated Scorsese film. OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with Leavitt about the band's origins, its Milwaukee connection and getting the rare Scorsese Stamp of Approval.
Published Sept. 9, 2014
For fans of the late '90s, names like the Sugar Ray, "TRL," Surge and Chris Gaines will sound very familiar (OK, maybe not that last one). For local music fans around in the era, another name might sound a little familiar: The Buzzhorn.
Published Sept. 8, 2014
The good news? As with every year, the lineup of movies are the Milwaukee Film Festival is overflowing with terrific options. The bad news? Unfortunately, save for some kind of planetary revolution halt, divine intervention or new time machine development, there are only so many hours in the day. So here are some picks for the film festival selections you should definitely make the time to see.
Published Sept. 5, 2014
After slowly teasing its complete lineup for the past several weeks, the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival finally revealed the entire cinematic buffet it's assembled for film fans - both hardcore and casual - this morning. And my friends, it looks absolutely delicious.
Published Sept. 4, 2014
Driving down Grange Avenue around the border of Hales Corners and Greendale, the two towns look like typical pleasant suburbs, with assorted shops, strip malls, small businesses and parks mixed in between the cozy subdivisions and homes. And then you come across Trimborn Farm, a seven-and-a-half-acre time machine back to the 1800s, providing a glimpse at the history of the two towns and the city of Milwaukee.
Published Sept. 3, 2014
The main draw of the Milwaukee Film Festival is right there in the title: the films. But every year, just off to the side of the main event, Milwaukee Film also wrangles together some really awesome people from the world of cinema, hands them a stage and pays fitting tribute to them. This year's lineup is no less spectacular, bringing in a diverse group of accomplished people in the business to share their film expertise and their love of movies.
Published Sept. 3, 2014
"It feels kind of weird doing something for a second time," star Steve Coogan ponders aloud before lamenting the inherently repetitive nature, expectations and diminished returns of sequels. Luckily, that's not the case here with "The Trip to Italy," a worthy follow-up to its hilarious and surprisingly reflective 2010 predecessor.