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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience. MOBILE: |
. "Trouble With the Curve"

Though the title of this romantic sports drama is relevant to the story, the impression it made on me caused me to forgo seeing it at countless screenings before its release, and after. Which is why, when I finally rented the DVD, it completely knocked me out. From Clint Eastwood's lovable old coot persona to Amy Adams' iron-willed, soft-edged, big-city lawyer's combativeness, the movie was a stunning, beautiful surprise. A sports movie, a romance without sentimentality, and the emotional trauma of a family secret.

Veteran Atlanta Braves scout Gus Lobel (Eastwood), suffering from the effects of old age and increasing degeneration of his eyesight, refuses to accept that his skills in correctly analyzing young baseball players' talents are in any way impaired. While there are some among the team's managers who are wanting him to retire, there are those who remember what his picks have meant to the team he helped put together. But old buddy Pete (John Goodman), his loyal protector-in-chief, doesn't forget.

Though Gus is having no doubts about his abilities to carry on and pursues a hermetic home life in between scouting trips, his daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) gathers that all's not well with pop. Though she's working on a major client presentation of a legal case, which may mean ascendence to the partnership level, she uses some of her prep time to visit dad, showing up on his doorstep and joining him on his trip to North Carolina.

Clearly, he wants no such companionship, even though tomboyish Mickey is as much a baseball savant as he is. But he relents, and they're off, in a battle of wits and a turmoil of emotions, to evaluate a hot local batting phenom with a callous attitude. They take their seats in the bleachers alongside their colleagues -- scouts for other teams -- which includes one who makes an impression on standoffish Mickey. He's Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a retired-through-injury ex-pitcher representing the Boston Red Sox, the Braves' arch rivals. He was in love the instant he laid eyes on his elderly friend's daughter.

Team rivalry plays no part in Gus's friendship toward the young lad and, when he sees a relationship brewing between Mickey and his former field favorite who had such bad luck, his concern for the decision the kid will make on behalf of his team about recruiting the local phenom they've come to evaluate becomes a potential deal-breaker.

While Eastwood has got the irascible old dude role down to a science, it's no impediment to the film's romantic subplot -- here, it's a rich contribution to the dynamics of past parental mistakes, current neuroses, and a romance that resolves all the issues while keeping us devotedly engaged every minute.

But I can't laud Adams enough for her part in the success of the enterprise. Though she doesn't play the brilliant attorney on the way up the corporate ladder with the usual cold crispness, chic wardrobe, curt dialogue, etc., her quality is so honest and real, her mere presence is enough to captivate us unquestioningly. This is an actress who understands every part of her role in a drama and makes the most of her performance arc. She puts the stamp of approval on everything she touches, like virtually saving "The Fighter" from what might have been little more than a skeletal, overstated exhibition bout.

The charm and depth that Timberlake adds is another casting coup. As the winner of Mickey's affections, he imparts to the role all the reason we need to cheer his game on. The supporting cast illustrates fine skill in casting.

In the end, the relevance of the title bears fruit and becomes clear. But that's no excuse for a really poor marquee choice. My great-grandmother could think up a title with more drawing power for this enchanting sports movie that operates on an entirely creative path thanks to a fine understanding of character and an absence of sentimentality by debuting screenwriter Randy Brown and its exceptional realization by also debuting director Robert Lorenz. All of which makes for the best journey with Clint since "Gran Torino."

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                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Amy Adams and Clint Eastwood
Two baseball savants on a recruiting and family mission.

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