"Trouble With the Curve" is a meatball pitch, slow and long and straight down the middle. Like that pitch, there are no surprises - not always a bad thing in a movie, but rarely a really good thing, either.

In the end, it's innocent enough, but it's hard to get past the alternate universe where it takes place - possibly the one from that famous field of corn in Iowa. And the corn here indeed grows high.

Clint Eastwood, as crotchety old baseball scout Gus, stars but does not direct - which could explain the lack of nuance, or even a second dimension, in any of the characters.

The director is first-timer Robert Lorenz, who has worked with Eastwood as an assistant on many of his best pictures; he appears to have picked up Eastwood's fondness for letting a story develop sloooowly, but not so much Eastwood's talent for picking a story worth developing.

However, there was an early treat for the Elmwood Regal audience the other night, as "Curve" started by panning photos on a wall showing baseball greats, lingering especially on Buffalo's own Warren Spahn before moving on to pics of Eastwood with Mickey Mantle.

The photos of the Mick are nice, but Gus works for the Atlanta Braves. His age is undefined, but Eastwood is showing all of his 82 years, and so is Gus: behind that perpetual squint, his eyes are failing, a mixture of macular degeneration and glaucoma.

For a man whose job is his life - his wife is long dead, he eats Schlitz and Spam for lunch, and he's alienated from his lawyer daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams) - this is devastating news and, despite his stubbornness, undeniable.

Meanwhile, the sharks are circling: Matthew Lillard plays an ambitious creep angling for the Braves' GM job. He crunches numbers to find draft picks - something Brad Pitt did with much more charm in "Moneyball" - while trying to push Gus out the door. John Goodman is also in the head office, as Gus' friend and, now, protector. Knowing something is wrong, he calls in Mickey to help scout their top draft pick, and, even though she is trying to make partner in her law firm - also up against a brown-nosing jerk - she drops everything to try, one more time, to get her father's attention.

Guess how it turns out.

Lorenz follows the family-reconciliation-film recipe so closely he could work in a test kitchen, and still it never rings true.

Mickey can help her father because she is practically a baseball savant, but we later learn they spent hardly any time together over the years. Gus still pushes her away - you expect him at any moment to ask her if she feels lucky, punk - even though his dreams are haunted by long-ago fears for her. Goodman's and Lillard's characters are too good and too bad to be true, and the film makes the young baseball player being scouted so offensive you can't imagine anyone cheering him on (all the better for Gus to find fault with his hitting).

Justin Timberlake brings some spark as a former protégé of Gus' who can no longer play. He adds some wise-guy jokiness once he attaches himself to our prickly pair - watching out for Gus and looking for love with Mickey. And at one point he strips down to his briefs for a late-night swim.

All part of the formula, but who's complaining?

The trouble with the curve, it turns out, is that all its problems are too darn easy to solve.


Two stars (Out of four)

Starring: Clint Eastwood, ?Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake

Director: Robert Lorenz

Running time: 111 minutes

Rating: PG-13 for language, sexual references and smoking.

The Lowdown: An aging baseball scout gets unwanted? help from his baseball savvy daughter when his eyesight ?fails and his job is in jeopardy.