‘Mystic River’ producer’s directorial debut strikes out

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It’s a good thing that Clint Eastwood is well practiced at speaking to empty chairs, because I’m betting there will be a few of them when “Trouble with the Curve” opens. Watching the film is evocative of the scene in “A Clockwork Orange,” in which Alex is forced to listen to Beethoven, his favorite composer, played over images of genocide and horror.  This experience poisons his deep love of Beethoven and completely changes his life. For those who love film and Clint Eastwood in particular, “Trouble with the Curve” works in much the same way. It’s cyanide for cinephiles.

“Trouble with the Curve” is a rollercoaster ride of cinema cliches. Its story, in so much as it has one, follows the trials of Gus Lobel, an aging baseball scout who is trying to adapt his quaint, personal scouting technique to the age of the “interwebs” — as he calls it. Throw in an estranged daughter, and a washed up pop star, sorry, baseball player played by Justin Timberlake and you have a recipe for a film that makes a very competitive bid for the title of worst film in cinema. It’s a pretty serious and unexpected misfire from Robert Lorenz who makes his debut in the director’s chair after producing a run of highly successful films including “Million Dollar Baby” and “Letters from Iwo Jima,” which each earned him an Oscar nomination.

The most immediately obvious of this film’s vast spectrum of failings is in its truly woeful dialogue, a quality that is drawn into sharper relief with every successive “your mom” joke the infantile characters crack. At one point Clint Eastwood turns to his colleagues and asks, “What are you fellas staring at? I’m not a pole dancer.” It’s a line so bad you expect him to look into the camera and reassure us with dry, Ricky Gervais-like irony that it’s all a joke.

Eastwood makes jokes about the Kardashians and Ice Cube, he says “fang schmei” instead of “feng shui” and he even sings “You Are My Sunshine” to a gravestone. If Eastwood’s necromantic serenade was supposed to evoke some deep pathos, it fell desperately short of the mark, especially for an audience that remembers a time when Clint Eastwood directed his dialogue to sentient beings, and not gravestones (or empty chairs).

Did Lorenz not think to alter lines on set? Did the actors not think to improvise something better? At all of these stages — writing, directing and acting — the film’s creative personnel somehow turned a blind eye to this most glaring of the film’s many sins. If Eastwood, the eternal libertarian, is such an ardent believer in “trickle-down,” it can only be because the god-awful toxic stream of dialogue in this film trickled down entirely unabated from the screenwriter, through the director and finally to the actor to resemble a pure torrent of nonsensical gibberish by the time it reached the screen.

Some truly poor performances on the part of the principal cast do nothing to ease the film’s problems. Amy Adams, who plays Eastwood’s estranged daughter and Justin Timberlake, who plays a baseballer cum scout should have some kind of charisma that attracts them to each other — we know from “The Muppets Movie” and “The Social Network” that both are capable of such. Yet Amy Adams imbues her jejune jaunt around the baseball diamond with all the charisma of a tepid jellyfish and Justin Timberlake’s endless wisecracks come at such relentless frequency that I’d sooner drag an orchestra of cheesegraters across a wet blackboard than spend another second with his tiresome stock character.

You’d think that examining his raw footage, Lorenz might have thought to ameliorate the film’s greater sins in the editing room. Of course, to do so would imply that Lorenz is capable of a making a single directorial decision — a faculty that “Trouble with the Curve” proves is clearly not in his possession.

“Trouble with the Curve” is one of those movies you hope never to see again. Like a sad, unwanted child, this film has no redeeming features. One only hopes the enduring legacy of this film’s inevitably poor box office and critical reception is a cinematic Darwin Award for its producers, removing them from the filmic gene pool, so that we never have to endure cinema like this again.

Thomas Coughlan is the lead film critic. Contact Thomas at [email protected]