By Zorianna Kit
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A month ago, "Trouble with the Curve" was just a low-key fall movie starring Clint Eastwood as a stubborn, aging baseball scout.
But after the Oscar-winner's headline-making "empty chair" speech at the Republican National Convention in August, the film could be set for a box office home run when it opens on Friday.
Eastwood, 82, used to performing multiple duties, handed the directing reigns to someone else for the first time in 20 years for "Trouble with the Curve." He plays a baseball scout with failing eyesight who has a fractured relationship with his strong-willed attorney daughter, played by Amy Adams.
The movie opens in U.S. theaters after weeks of public debate, and many jokes, over Eastwood's unscripted August 30 political speech that Hollywood box office watchers say has stirred interest in the movie and will likely boost ticket sales.
As of Wednesday, "Curve" was among the top five best-selling advance tickets for the upcoming weekend on movie-going destination website Fandango.
Based on social media buzz including Facebook and Twitter, Boxoffice.com predicted that "Curve," along with new horror movie release "House at the End of the Street" starring "Hunger Games" star Jennifer Lawrence, will be fighting it out for first place at the North American box office.
The tracking website predicted "Curve" will take in about $18.5 million with "House" closely behind at around $18 million.
"Clint has the ability to surprise," Boxoffice.com editor Phil Contrino told Reuters. "'Gran Torino,' the last film he starred in, shocked everyone with what it did at the box office. His audience is mostly conservative anyway so I don't think his chair speech at the RNC is going to hurt ticket sales. If anything it will help him because more people are talking about him."
NO TROUBLE GETTING ATTENTION
"Trouble with the Curve," from movie studio Warner Bros., will also compete for audiences with science-fiction action film "Dredd 3D" and the Jake Gyllenhaal crime drama "End of Watch." Paul Thomas Anderson's highly touted "The Master" also opens wide this weekend after a limited opening last week.
Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst at Hollywood.com, said that Eastwood's speech "certainly has raised awareness of Clint and therefore the movie, and that may translate into bigger-than-expected numbers for the film."
"Ultimately, it comes down to whether or not movie-goers base their ticket-buying decisions on extraneous forces such as a star's extra-curricular activities," Dergarabedian added.
"Curve" is directed by Eastwood's longtime producing partner Robert Lorenz, making his directorial debut. It's the first time Eastwood has appeared in a movie directed by someone other than himself since Wolfgang Petersen's 1993 film "In the Line of Fire."
"After (2008's) 'Gran Torino,' I thought, 'This is kind of stupid to be doing both jobs,'" Eastwood told reporters at a recent press conference. "I've been (directing) for 40 something years and I thought maybe I should just do one or the other...so this was an opportunity to do that."
Not directing his own film "was actually quite relaxing," according to Eastwood, who said that during downtime on set, he worked on his putting and played golf with actor and singer Justin Timberlake, who plays a rival baseball scout who has eyes for Amy Adams' character.
The low key schedule was enough to make Eastwood consider keeping acting and directing as two separate duties.
"I probably won't do both again, at least for the moment," he said. "But I said I wasn't going to act again a few years ago and that changed too. So sometimes you just lie a lot!"
While it's not considered a likely Oscar contender, "Curve" has earned mixed to positive reviews. Variety called the chemistry between Eastwood and Adams "wonderfully spiky" and Boxoffice Magazine wrote the film is "filled with heart, humor, family drama and fantastic acting."
However, the New York Observer felt the film was "less riveting than it ought to be" while film critic Marshall Fine of Hollywood & Fine thought the movie was "dull" and "without enough laughs or tension to keep you involved."
Regardless of how the film does, Eastwood told reporters he's enjoyed playing the older man roles that have come his way in recent years. In fact, they have not forced him to face any inner fears regarding his own aging process.
"At a certain age, you're just glad to be there," said Eastwood. "Be realistic about where you are in life and enjoy it. I've enjoyed the journey to this stage and so I intend to enjoy the rest of the journey."
(Reporting By Zorianna Kit, editing by Jill Serjeant and M.D. Golan)