I'm out of it for a little while, everyone gets delusions of grandeur!
That is... especially if they read the book... or watched the documentary... or lived it. (Personally, I find this very string of adaptations rather hard to believe. Wow!) This is mostly because the Grant Heslov-directed flick is a prime-rib example of a film "Loosely-Based" on a book. While that might make some literary purists as uncomfortable as an aardvark getting its back waxed, this pretty much had to be the case, seeing as how the book itself amounted to a series of episodic and none-too-connected tales that wouldn't amount to a valid Hollywood plot. The resulting movie, however, definitely has a viable plot. In fact, while it's most certainly an esoteric and specialized type (even occasionally silly) of comedy that won't appeal to just anybody, the end result is a hilarious, surreal and oddball comedy for the right audience.
After an oddity of an opening scene (which shows us one more reason not to sprint into walls), we meet our narrator, down-on-his-luck Ann Arbor Daily Telegram reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor, whose character is largely based on Jon Ronson). The guy can't seem to get a great article and the most interesting thing he's reported on for a while is a crazy story about US Army Psychics as told by retired US Army Psycho Gus Lacey (Stephen Root)! That's too bad. But it gets worse. When Bob-o's wife leaves him for a one armed man (in a slightly more peaceful version of The Fugitive), Bob goes on-the-run to the Middle East to find some peace and quiet in a few war zones.
Unfortunately peace and quiet is about all Bob gets, in spite of the fact that he really is looking for some action to report on. Action is his reward when he leaves his peaceful Kuwait hotel room to pop into the peaceful Kuwait bar for a peaceful drink. This is because in that same bar, in real life, sits a corn-ball retired US Army Psyche Patient named Lyn Cassady (George Clooney). Bob's interest is piqued because he happens to recognize the name "Lyn Cassady" from the tall tales old Retired Gus was telling about the Army Psychics. In fact, Lyn himself was said to be a psychic so powerful that he could kill a goat... just by looking at it!
Damn. Poor Goat. Either Lynn is a truly powerful psychic or he's ugly with a capital UG! Dude, that's like some serious Medusa type stuff, man... and that's the US Army, man!
Lucky (in a very, very relative way) for the Bobbenator, Lyn agrees to bring the reporter over the border into Iraq for adventure and more of the story of just how the US Army got into psychic goat-slayings with mental powers.
Lyn starts by revealing to Bob that he is, in fact, a "Jedi Warrior" with super mental powers! Did you get that? Then let me repeat... George Clooney tells Ewan McGregor that he is, in fact, a Jedi Warrior. Uh... huh. I would've given real money if Lyn had invited Bob to become a Jedi, too, saying "OH, BE ONE!"
Moving on. Lyn's tale of how he (and his crack team of the cracked) actually became this "Jedi Warrior" starts way back during the Vietnam War with an officer named Bill Django (Jeff Bridges). Django becomes disenchanted with war right about the time that he gets shot in the chest (getting shot in the chest tends to do that to a guy), so he spends the better part of the 1970s travelling the country, skinny-dipping with hot hippie chicks, experimenting with drugs, skinny-dipping with hot hippie chicks, learning the ways of peace and zen, skinny-dipping with hot hippie chicks and learning ways to become a psychic spy. Did I mention that he also skinny-dips with some hot hippie chicks? Well he does, and they're hot!
Lyn's tale (which is interrupted by totaling his car, getting kidnapped, shot at, imprisoned and insulted) continues as he details the evolution of the "New Earth Army", its students like Gus, Lyn and the dark side of the program in the person of malevolent psychic Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) and the program's supporters, such as the easily-sold General Hopgood (Stephen Lang) and, of course, the unseen President Ronald Reagan himself (there's a reason he called his missile defense plan "Star Wars").
The film tells a super-quirky and funny, cohesive story while jumping back and forth between the flashback stories spanning a couple of decades and the present in which Bob and Lyn are hijacked and kidnapped, traded and trapped. Meanwhile they face off with Crazy Security Contractor Todd Nixon (Robert Patrick) and join forces with innocent Iraqi Mahmud Daash (Waleed Zuaiter) on their way to the revelation of just what Dance Studio Owner Lyn is doing in Iraq and just what might be waiting for him and his new Bro Bob somewhere in the desert.
While the movie can be engrossing and fun through and through, director Heslov has a hard time keeping the momentum going around the time the final act gets going. Yes, the film does tend to drag on just a bit when it could be bringing us to the next level of parapshychological revelation, but clearly the film comes close to collapsing under its own weight. Still, the film isn't going to appeal to everyone anyway and if you haven't moved your sorry, non-Jedi ASS out of the theatre by the time the plot slows down, you're most certainly going to want to see how this bad boy ends, whether you're joining in the trip, the trip, a-trip-a-trip-trip or not.
Make no mistake, however, while The Men who Stare at Goats is, in essence, a series of small stories that may or may not be true about the Hippie Division of the US Military, laced together by a Road Picture-cum-buddy Bromance, it's most assuredly worth the ride. The flashback sequences are comedy keepers (and the made-up-to-look-young Clooney, actually looks like Clooney did in the 1980s). The strange link between the past and the present is balanced sweetly and, to be sure, the one thing this strange comedy is NOT, is Predictable.
And that's what makes The Men Who Stare at Goats worth watching... if you are in tune with this type of subtle, yet surreal and psychedelic comedy, it is truly, very, very funny and worth at leastThree and One Half Stars out of Five! Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for me to do some real Library (as opposed to Wikipedia) type research about The Battle of Ramadi. I have to find out if anybody out there reported the presence of lightsabres during the melee! I'll let you know what I find out in the next... very silly... reel!
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