REVIEW: The Men Who Stare At Goats

22 11 2009

Much of “The Men Who Stare At Goats” follows dumb-struck reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan MacGregor) and straight-faced former psychic spy Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney) meandering through the Iraqi desert.  Sadly, the movie follows suit, heading in several different directions at once, none of which with confidence.  It is satirical but never makes the target inherently clear.  It is farcical yet it continues to persist that what we are watching really happened.  Thankfully, the movie manages to give the audience some good belly laughs while they scratch their heads trying to figure out the direction it is heading.

The main plot arc follows Wilton and Cassidy as they traverse through Iraq on a mission to find the remnants of the New Earth Army, a battalion using New Age tactics to gain such powers as invisibility, remote viewing, and walking through walls.  Strangely, it is Wilton who tells us the history of the group informally known as the “Jedi Warriors.”  It is curious that the filmmakers chose him to narrate the story through fragments in the principal narrative, seeing as Wilton would have no idea of what happened.  These segments are the best and most uproarious parts of the movie, but they are thrown into the story so haphazardly that it becomes difficult to remember what is happening to Wilton and Cassidy.  Both were story lines crucial to a full movie, but with a little discretion and some more mapping, a more cogent and enjoyable experience could have been easily possible.

“The Men Who Stare At Goats” really shines in its moments of pure absurdity, which could be exactly what the filmmakers didn’t want since they want us to believe that much of what is portrayed actually occurred.  They aim for bizarrely plausible, but they wind up with laughably ridiculous.  It is certainly enjoyable to see George Clooney in a role where he isn’t quite so staid and upright, and one can get a hearty chuckle out of seeing him with longer locks and putting on his boogie shoes.  Ewan MacGregor, possibly cast just for added irony on all the Jedi jokes, performs almost a straight man-straight man routine with Clooney, yet somehow the combination yields a great deal of laughs.  Jeff Bridges channels a bit of “The Dude” and Kevin Spacey brings an antagonistic smugness to his role, but neither seem entirely committed.  In the end, “The Men Who Stare At Goats” provides you some of what you want but definitely not in the way that you want it.  B /

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