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 Nov. 20, 2014
The trailer for "Pitch Perfect 2" came out this morning. The original cast - Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, etc. - is all here, as well as a few new faces. Among those new faces, however, is one very familiar to sports fans: Packers linebacker Clay Matthews - flanked on both sides by fellow Packers TJ Lang, Josh Sitton, Don Barclay and David Bakhtiari.
Published Nov. 19, 2014
In case there was a question about this matter, "Dumb and Dumber To" is - for lack of a better word - dumb. Very dumb. There's entertainment where you turn your brain off, and then there's this, where maybe it's best if you leave your brain out of the theater altogether just in case its rollicking, unrepentant stupidity is somehow contagious. But did I laugh? Yes.
Published Nov. 17, 2014
They aren't old enough to legally smoke, drink or even drive. If "This Is Spinal Tap" was in theaters, they wouldn't be able to see it without their parents, and if you add together the ages of all five band members, the quintet's combined age (63) would still be younger than Sir Paul McCartney (72). But while most kids' dreams of rock glory only go as far as that - dreams - Mad RED Kat has already started acting on its aspirations, forming a band and playing gigs across the city.
Published Nov. 17, 2014
Much like Stewart's incredibly influential television show, "Rosewater" is about navigating through troubling political times, topics and outrages with lightness, humor and humanity. And for the most part, the funnyman does a respectable job with his first go-around, his familiarity with the melding of politics and humor mostly making up for his unfamiliarity with writing and directing for the big screen.
Published Nov. 15, 2014
When most people think of "Harvey," their minds probably jump to the classic 1950 Oscar-winning Jimmy Stewart film. But before Stewart got a crack at it, the story of Elwood P. Dowd and his pooka started out on stage. Now, it's returning to its origins with a run at the Milwaukee Rep starting Tuesday, Nov. 18 in the Quadracci Powerhouse.
Published Nov. 13, 2014
For many bands, the health of the group relies on giving one another space when need be. In most cases, that's pretty easy; after all, after practice or a gig, usually everyone can go in their separate directions. That's a little bit difficult for Chris Wagoner and Mary Gaines, the core duo of the Madison-based jazz band The Stellanovas, who celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this year.
Published Nov. 12, 2014
I am satisfied with my care ... and with Disney's latest animated feature "Big Hero 6," a soaring and sweetly soulful addition to the crowded comic book superhero genre that flies just as high - if not higher - than many of its live-action ilk.
Published Nov. 10, 2014
One of Justin Hayward's earliest memories of being in America with The Moody Blues comes courtesy of the Midwest. Unsurprisingly, it's a chilly one. Over 40 years later, he returns to town for a show on Sunday, Nov. 16. Unfortunately, it hasn't gotten much warmer. One thing is different this time around, though: Hayward arrives in Milwaukee by himself, taking the chance in between tours with The Moody Blues to do a special acoustic tour.
Published Nov. 7, 2014
If you happened to be at Lucille's Piano Bar last Saturday night, you got more of a show that you were probably expecting, as Seth MacFarlane took a break from "Ted 2" and took the stage at Lucille's this past weekend to drink, do a little dance and perform a couple of classic songs.
Published Nov. 5, 2014
"The Lion King" is one of the Broadway's grandest spectacles. The inner workings of that spectacle are right there for the audience to see on stage, with the puppetry, the costumes and the actors all seamlessly coming together in plain sight to bring non-human characters to life. Original "Lion King" director and theater icon Julie Taymor called the visible mix of on stage performance work and behind the scenes technician work "the double event."