You can't go back in time, nor can you assume that people don't change as they get old, but I'm going to hope that the Clint Eastwood of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Dirty Harry isn't merely a memory. I'm going to assume, for my own selfish sake, that beyond the surface details senior citizenship brings, that nothing fundamental has changed. I'm not referring to the Republican National Convention. That was entertainingly off-the-cuff weirdness, but if you're still making jokes about it then you haven't been watching enough Daily Show. I'm talking about the weird new version of Eastwood inhabiting this specific cuddle of a movie, one that takes his most recent grumpy old incarnation, the noble-yet-racist, Gran Torino violence-martyr, and smooths him down to a Clint Eastwood-shaped beach rock, a snarling caricature that would feel more at home in an uncharacteristically irascible commercial for Werther's Originals.

He plays Gus Lobel, a baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves whose failing eyesight causes a lot of crash-damage to his sweet vintage Mustang but doesn't prevent him from assessing a player's talent. He knows from the crack a bat makes who's worth signing and who needs more practice. His daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) is a driven attorney bucking for a partnership in her firm and, thanks to a life of Dad's non-existent parenting skills, resents him for every moment of her lonely, discarded childhood.

What these two need, obviously, is plot-enforced togetherness to confront one another, fight it out, display open rage, shout about nursed grudges and, eventually, tenderly forgive. So Mickey, in spite of all character setup to the contrary, abandons the firm for a scouting trip with Dad, throwing her shot at partner into danger. Facilitating this father-daughter reunion is a handsome player turned scout (Justin Timberlake), a brutish young slugger (newcomer Joe Massingill) with too much talent and bad attitude to be likable in any arena, and a conniving Braves colleague (Matthew Lillard) whose stats-driven computer programs are no match for Eastwood's intuitive awareness of baseball's intangibles. So, you know, take that, Moneyball.

It's not all bad, of course. In the way that watching ESPN Classic is visual comfort food for people who already know the outcome of World Series past, Eastwood and Adams perform their roles just like every other half-moving, half-annoying, estranged parent-child movie duo has throughout film history. As a team they know where the emotional pause goes, when to flash the wet-eyed regret, when to sing "You Are My Sunshine" (often, it turns out) and where to follow when the script calls for crisis, revelation and catharsis. Nobody's heart or soul is in any real danger, but if you wanted that from a movie you'd be somewhere else, not lined up for the cheap hugs it offers. But if that's the game you're determined to buy a ticket for, then play ball.


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