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story.lead_photo.caption Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake) is a baseball scout who has a secret crush on a crusty old rival’s daughter in Trouble With the Curve.

— Trouble With the Curve

86 Cast: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Robert Patrick, Matthew Lillard, Bob Gunton, Joe Massingill Director: Robert Lorenz Rating: PG-13, for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking Running time: 111 minutes

One of the refreshing traits of Clint Eastwood is the fact that he embraces his age instead of trying earnestly to conceal it. He practically flaunts his weathered features and physique and knows better than to try and pass for his younger self. That probably explains why he has been behind the camera instead of in front of it for a while.

That said, he still had that penetrating squint and the firm chin that informs potential adversaries that he’s not budging. As a result, he can play cranky old men and still look as if he could floor anyone foolish enough to cross him.

In Trouble With the Curve, he plays Gus Lobel, a crusty baseball scout who still has great instincts for up-and-coming players even though he’s well past retirement age. If his instincts are still sharp, his eyes aren’t.

Because he has been slow landing some new prospects for the Atlanta Braves, his bosses (Matthew Lillard and Robert Patrick) are eager to phase him out. His old pal Pete Klein (John Goodman), however, thinks Gus might be just the right guy to determine if a formidable power hitter (Joe Massingill) might have what it takes to make it in the big leagues.

Knowing that something’s not right with Gus but unaware of his vision problems, Pete pleads with Gus’ equally stubborn and flinty daughter Mickey (Amy Adams). She’s about to become a partner in her law firm and resents her caustic dad’s having left her for long stretches of her childhood. Nonetheless, Pete is persuasive, and Mickey, who’s named for Mr. Mantle, has her father’s Wikipedia-like knowledge of the game.

Randy Brown’s script follows a standard sports movie template, but the lingo sounds right, and it gives Eastwood and Adams plenty of room to work. Adams projects a firmness that makes her an ideal sparring partner with Eastwood. She keeps him from going into autopilot by simply falling back on his familiar enigmatic gazes.

It’s too bad Adams wasn’t available for Eastwood’s speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. He looks far better playing off her instead of waiting for answers from an empty chair.

Eastwood took a break from directing here. He’s “only” credited with acting and producing. Robert Lorenz, who has produced and directed second unit for some of Eastwood’s other projects, makes a solid debut here.

Like his mentor, Lorenz doesn’t do anything flashy, but he knows better than to pile on excessive sentimentality. With the cast he has assembled here, Lorenz has wisely decided that it’s best to let them do their work and keep the camera in focus. That’s a lot more than some auteurs seem able to do these days.

MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 09/21/2012

Print Headline: Trouble With the Curve

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