The good news: Clint Eastwood never once addresses an empty chair in his latest movie.
Even better news: the closest the movie comes to presidential politics is that it's about baseball, which has been known to have sitting Presidents throw out the first pitch at the start of a Major League season.
"Trouble With the Curve," a film that holds no surprises but offers much pleasure in its performances, stars Eastwood as Gus Lobel, an aging scout for the Atlanta Braves. He was widowed years ago and has a patchy relationship with his only child, Mickey (Amy Adams), who was named after Mickey Mantle, the legendary Yankee slugger.
Mickey is am ambitious lawyer and up for a partnership with her Atlanta law firm so she's none too enthusiastic when her father's boss (John Goodman), who's also his best friend, urges her to join Gus on a road trip through North Carolina to scout a promising hitting prospect (Joe Massingill). The pal fears that Gus' job is on the line and suspects that his eyesight isn't what it once was.
Over the course of several days on the road and at minor league ball parks, father and daughter bicker and bait each other, learn each other's secrets and frailties, and inevitably grow closer. Mickey also begins a tentative romance with Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake, who's improving as an actor), a former pro pitcher now working as a scout for the Boston Red Sox.
As scripted by newcomer Randy Brown and directed by Robert Lorenz, a longtime producer and assistant director for Eastwood, "Trouble" is an old-fashioned movie, grounded in character and storytelling.
Much like a pitcher who signals ahead of time what he's going to throw, the movie is pretty obvious in laying down with a thud early on the paving stones for several late-breaking plot developments. Put it this way: nothing that happens in "Trouble" comes out of left field. All that really separates the film from a TV movie is its A-level cast. But with Eastwood and Adams working off each other, one just sits back and enjoys.
Looking grizzled and projecting a whiff of incipient frailty, Eastwood essentially reprises his cranky, growling tough guy from "Gran Torino," the 2008 film that marked his last time he was in front of a movie camera. His Gus is a cranky codger with heart, which is the best kind.
Adams takes the most clichéd of scenes in "Trouble" and make them genuine. She radiates humanity and realness. Contrast her work here with her recent steel-hard intensity in "The Master" and it's obvious that she's the real deal; one looks forward to many more extraordinary performances to come.
In the end, "Trouble" is too pedestrian and predictable to score a critical home run, but the stellar performances and warm story make it a solid double. Heck, if viewed under the right conditions (plenty of popcorn and no crying babies), it could even stretch into a triple.