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No trouble with Trouble with the Curve'

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Relationships take the field in this baseball offering

As a rule, I enjoy most sports movies, but the truth is that with very few exceptions, Hollywood has been most successful with films about boxing and baseball. While boxing's visceral brutality is a large part of why it works on film, baseball's advantage is in its inherent romanticism. America's relationship with its pastime allows the sport to work as a framework to explore our relationships with one another.

'Trouble with the Curve' offers a slightly different look at the father-son dynamic we usually get from sports movies about relationships (or relationship movies about sports take your pick). It seems a bit formulaic and gimmicky father reconnects with daughter instead of son but it mostly works.

Clint Eastwood ('Gran Torino') is Gus Lobel, a longtime scout for the Atlanta Braves. He's one of the legends of the game, responsible for signing some of the greats of the game. However, his advancing age and refusal to bow to the 21st century view of the game has young hotshot Philip Sanderson (Matthew Lillard, 'The Descendants') aiming to oust him, despite the efforts of the director of scouting Pete Klein (John Goodman, 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close').

Klein is concerned about Gus's health in particular his failing eyesight so he contacts Gus's almost-estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams, 'On The Road'), an upwardly mobile lawyer gunning for a partnership in her firm. Despite her misgivings, Mickey joins Gus in North Carolina as he scouts the guy who might just be the next big thing a guy his rival Sanderson desperately covets. Along the way, the two encounter Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake, 'In Time'), a Red Sox scout whom Gus scouted and signed back in the day.

As Gus and Mickey follow the phenom around North Carolina, they find themselves forced to start probing old wounds and reexamining their relationship while each tries to do his or her respective job. Eventually, something has to give.

Calling 'Trouble with the Curve' a sports movie might be a bit disingenuous; while baseball certainly serves as the framework, this movie is about the relationship between these two people far more than about any game.

Eastwood is at his gruffest and grumbliest; his performance feels a bit one-note, but it works, because the one note screams 'old-timer.' For the purposes of this movie, 'old-timer' is all he needs. However, that might be a bit different if he had a less capable co-star. Adams is wonderful as the career-driven Mickey, bringing all manner of nuanced and unexpected choices to her performance. It's not easy to come off as capable and vulnerable at the same time, but Adams manages.

The supporting cast is almost uniformly excellent. This might be the smallest amount of Justin Timberlake I've ever seen in a Justin Timberlake performance; the guy is definitely growing as an actor. Lillard is suitably slimy as the ambitious sabermetrician, while John Goodman brings his standard sincerity and stolidity.

'Trouble with the Curve' doesn't really offer anything new. There's an inescapable familiarity to the story; the whole thing borders on and occasionally embraces corniness. And yet, that's OK. The simplicity of the movie's message, along with the quality of its performances, makes it a perfectly enjoyable cinematic experience.

There's nothing spectacular here, but there's a gentle sweetness to this movie; even in its coarser moments, you can't help but root for it. The sentimentality is a bit overwhelming in spots. Still, while 'Trouble with the Curve' might not be a home run, it's a solid double off the wall.

3 out of 5

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