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The Men Who Stare at Goats  (Rated Rated R)

The Men Who Stare at Goats
B-
 

“Jedi mind tricks abound.”

-Richard Roeper

The Men Who Stare at Goats  Review

The Men Who Stare at Goats

(R)

Summary: A reporter in Iraq might just have the story of a lifetime when he meets Lyn Cassady, a guy who claims to be a former member of the U.S. Army's First Earth Battalion, a unit that employs paranormal powers in their missions.

Genre:
Comedy, War

Cast:
George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges

The opening title for "The Men Who Stare at Goats" tells us, "More of this is true than you would believe."

Reminds me of "The Sting," and, "Not that it matters, but most of it is true." I'll take that over, "Based on a true story," or, "Inspired by real events" any time.

This is a satirical cocktail whipped up from equal parts "Catch-22," "Three Kings," "Dr. Strangelove" and the Hope/Crosby "Road" pictures, with Ewan McGregor as a small-time journalist named Bob Wilton who stumbles into the story of a lifetime when he pairs up with Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney), a former military operative now on a covert mission in the Middle East. He may be a private citizen---but then again, he might still be with the military.

As we learn in flashbacks, Cassidy was a "Jedi warrior" (wink-wink to McGregor's resume), i.e., an elite member of the New Earth Army of the early 1980s. "We must become the first superpower to develop super powers," says the founder of the New Earth Army, one Bill Django, a Vietnam vet turned visionary/crazy-ass hippie. (A wide-bodied, pony-tailed Jeff Bridges plays Django as a variation on the Dude from "The Big Lebowski.") Now he's on an undercover mission, which may or may not be a figment of his imagination. We're sure Cassidy is insane as he tells of having the ability to kill a goat merely by staring at it, but then again, when he fixates on a cloud formation and wills it to disappear, we're thinking: Hey, maybe this guy really IS a Jedi warrior.

Screenwriter Peter Straughan and director Grant Heslov have turned Jon Ronson's 2004 book into a wickedly funny, dense, sometimes confusing but fast-paced hit-and-miss satire with some great one-liners and a few scenes of sublimely ridiculous physical comedy. I sustained a mild case of follow-the-story whiplash trying to keep up with the proceedings as we bounced back and forth from early 1980s to 21st century Kuwait and Iraq. Just when the shenanigans start to get a little tiresome, Kevin Spacey shows up and provides a dose of acidic genius as a gifted but nasty little prick of a psychic-----he's at a wedding reception and tells the couple, "Sorry it doesn't work out for you two."

Clooney and McGregor make a terrific comedic duo, with Clooney delivering crazy-ass theories and McGregor playing the straight man to perfection. "The Men Who Stare at Goats" wobbles a bit in the last 20 minutes, as we're hit over the head with some heavy political messages and an extended scene that aims for big laughs but produces only a few chuckles. Overall, though, Clooney and Co. succeed in creating a clever, unique and breezy bit of madness.
 

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