“Trouble with the Curve” opens, pretty much, with a crotchety and wizened Clint Eastwood peeing tepidly into a toilet bowl. We don’t actually see the stream (thank God for small miracles), but we hear the sound of those tiny, tentative droplets as Eastwood’s character – a longtime baseball scout who may, it turns out, soon be forced into retirement – rallies himself to the task at hand. It’s an opening so daring it almost verges on the experimental, especially given today’s moviegoing climate. You can almost hear the collective groan: Is this going to be, like, a movie for and about old people? People over 40? People who have trouble peeing?
The answers are yes, yes and yes, though you don’t have to meet all three criteria to enjoy the thing. This is a movie starring an old coot, clearly made for old coots of all ages who like their movies served up with a little bit of story, a little bit of character and a soupcon of schmaltz. Yet it ends up just on the right side of the line between crowd-pleasing and pandering. Even if Eastwood’s grumpy old man routine wears you down – it’s perhaps too much of a not-very-good thing – there are lots of terrific second bananas, including Amy Adams, John Goodman and Justin Timberlake, to counter all that self-conscious squinting, scowling and grunting.
Eastwood plays Gus, a scout for the Atlanta Braves who’s always been tops in his field, even though he refuses to use computer-generated data to find good players. (This is a story that’s several dozen steps behind “Moneyball.”) Instead, Gus relies on his eyes and a few other criteria, but it turns out the former may be failing him. Some of his colleagues at the club (chiefly, officious up-and-comer Phillip, played by a lizardy Matthew Lillard) want to see him put out to pasture, even as others -- like right-as-rain Pete, played by John Goodman -- hope to help him ward off old-man disgrace.
To that end, Pete enlists the aid of Gus’s daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), a hyperambitious lawyer who resents her father for neglecting her throughout most of her childhood, though she sure did learn a heck of a lot about baseball from him. Her ability to reel off stats and recount the great moments of legendary players are, naturally, like catnip to Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a newly minted scout himself, though before he blew his shoulder out, he was once a potential star pitcher – it was Gus, in fact, who discovered him.
Will Gus be able to fulfill one crucial mission before his eyesight fails? Will Mickey – named after Mantle, natch – ever forgive her father for his perceived neglect? Will Johnny manage to charm the stubborn if fair maiden Mickey – and just about everyone, actually – by gamely joining in a clog dance down at a country-cute watering hole? You already know the answers to all those questions, but director Robert Lorenz and screenwriter Randy Brown deftly fool you into thinking that maybe you don’t. This is Lorenz’s debut feature (he’s worked as second-unit director on a number of Eastwood’s own films, including “Space Cowboys,” “Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby”), and it’s straightforward and old-fashioned in a reasonably pleasing way.
You do need a high tolerance for Eastwood’s grouchy grimace to get through “Trouble with the Curve.” The performance is safely apolitical, though it’s easy to imagine Gus would have little tolerance for that alleged 47% of Americans who laze about, living off the fat of his hard-earned tax dollars. If you can block out that notion, it’s easy to accept Eastwood as the movie’s benign center. Adams tones down the winkly-twinkly routine of which she’s sometimes guilty – her Mickey is plenty authoritative and just a little bit annoying, but the equation works.
Timberlake, though, may be the movie’s soul: At one point, he pulls his vintage-cute Buick Skylark to the side of a country road to watch a bunch of kids playing ball. He perches on the hood, James Dean-style, to survey the proceedings; his delight in their antics takes the form of a crooked grin, and because he’s an aspiring sportscaster, he makes up a mischievous faux-commentary on the spot. “Trouble with the Curve” is a movie for old people and for honorary oldies alike. Timberlake has enough wattage to charm both demographics.