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Aren't you tired of this same old formula? Once again, we get an underdog sports movie (baseball...yawn...) that carves out its path the minute the lead character is introduced. Once again, we see the ageing Clint Eastwood playing a grumpy man with snarky outbursts and failing health or to put more simply, channelling what he did in "Gran Torino." Once again, Amy Adams fills the role of a charming, adorable female, this time as Eastwood's daughter. Once again, singer-turned-serious-actor Justin Timberlake eases into the role of a cheeky young love interest. Once again, there are the uptight, suit-wearing executives who we know are ultimately getting the big middle-finger up their egos when they're eventually proved wrong by this unlikely protagonist who triumphs.
There is dysfunctional family drama as the father and daughter are estranged. She is a career-driven city girl, seeking the approval of her distant father. He pushes her away for the corny, cheesy reasons explained in a teary expose given by the usually stern father. It's supposed to be all the more touching as he's not the kind of guy to get touchy feely with his emotions. And also guess what happens when the uptight city lawyer meets the fun-loving, free-spirited country boy. She begins to smile, she begins to laugh, and fully embraces the country girl within; because no-one can be happy working in the city wearing suits all day hounded by our nasty bosses to meet all the project deadlines. Instead we all need hotdogs, skinny-dipping, drinking liquor out of the bottle, and to follow our hobbies passionately - and there we've unlocked the secret to Hollywood's happily-ever-after. Screw jobs and supporting yourself, hurrah to freedom. We've seen it all before, down to every single subplot that goes on here.
But in a strange way, director Robert Lorezn, a frequent Eastwood collaborator in his feature film directorial debut, makes certain aspects work, and even with all the tiresome narrative pitfalls the script doesn't even bother to try to avoid, there are scenes of genuine tender-hearted emotions as the actors fully engage in what they do best with a sugar-coated, easy-going narrative that bombards us with optimism and sunshine wherever we end up. It's a film guaranteed to provide the warmth and fuzziness, a welcome distraction during the coldest few months of the year in which this film is being released over here in the UK, but the many, many flaws and lazy storytelling often threaten to jeopardise the film's good and honest intentions.
Having to deal with declining health is never an easy task for anyone, especially for someone who prefers to be alone in his quiet life. Working as a baseball scout who refuses to modernise his ways with computers and electronic data analysis opting instead to watch the live games of various players, Gus (Eastwood) faces a non-renewal of his scouting contract that expires in 3 months as the big bosses aren't convinced by his old way and performance. His stubborn nature won't let him do otherwise, and his worried friend Pete (John Goodman) enlists the help of Gus' daughter Mickey (Adams) who is also a baseball whizz herself knowing all sorts of facts and trivia about the sport. The relationship between the two has never been easy, with Mickey blaming her father for her emotional problems that affect her personal life. Her father's been distant. She therefore doesn't trust men. She therefore has never been in a serious relationship as she refuses to let anyone in. Classic soapy story that's been done hundreds of times over. Enter Johnny (Timberlake) to fix all this - as a former pitcher once recruited by Gus, he has since retired from his sporting duties and is also on the scouting duty, having nothing but respect for Gus and a keen pair of eyes for Mickey. Timberlake and Adams share an easy chemistry to sell their romance although there seems to be a spark missing given how formulaic some of the developments turn out to be.
When it comes to dealing with the baseball aspect of the story, it often fares worse than the human drama. Gus knows everything there is to know. He knows every single kind of pitching there is in baseball, and therefore puts him a class above all the "interweb" (how original)-obsessed suits who don't have a lot of faith in him. And guess who comes out triumphant in the end. Plus there are the obligatory build-ups and slow-motion finales to really lay everything on thickly. Subtlety is certainly not one of the film's features and the ending suffers greatly because of it. The snarky villain, mainly in the form of Philip (a well-cast Matthew Lillard), is thoroughly embarrassed and put in his place and everything wraps up far too neatly as if this were some sort of a children's fairy-tale story. For a human/sports drama wanting to be taken seriously, it takes one too many dead-predictable easy routes to tie everything up, greatly diminishing whatever dramatic impact it could have had, drowning it all out with too much sap.
But the overall results can be described as a heart-warming experience, thanks mostly to Eastwood doing what he often does best. His extreme irritable mood and coldness towards his own daughter are personality traits that may seem incomprehensible at times, but for a man who doesn't want to accept the fact that his body is not the way it's used to be, there is a fair amount of sympathy to be aroused and the film cashes in on every moment to capture his ailing health. It's a little odd however, to find that his general weakness only truly affects him when convenient to the film's overall narrative shape. And no matter how heart-breaking it may be to see Dirty Harry shed some tears over his dead wife, was it really essential to have him sing "You are my sunshine" by her graveside? A plot strand used later on when Mickey seems to have picked up this little habit to sing to her new boyfriend.
Due to the many bumps and annoying audience-insulting moves along the way, the overall result seems underwhelming. But with a cast this good, performing only to their strengths and with a guilty-pleasure element attached to the underdog story, you'll almost forgive its sluggish style with which it chooses to pitch its story.