Director: Grant Heslov
Starring: Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges
Why do I get the feeling that the genesis of this film started with the idea to cast Ewan McGregor and then progressed to a bunch of meta Jedi jokes and then progressed to a story? I really wanted to like The Men Who Stare At Goats and given the caliber of its cast, I had pretty high expectations. Unfortunately, I found it really half baked and shapeless and a waste of the assembled talent.
The film centers on Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), who is despondent following the break down of his marriage and goes to the Middle East in an attempt to prove to his wife that he's a man to be taken seriously. While waiting for clearance to go into Iraq he meets Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a former member of a special branch of the U.S. military whose mission was to harness paranormal forces in order to help usher world peace. Lyn's legend as one of the most powerful New World Jedis is already well known to Bob, though he remains skeptical of Lyn's actual abilities.
When he learns that Lyn is going into Iraq, Bob talks his way into coming along and soon finds himself in way over his head. He and Lyn essentially stumble from one bad situation to another, getting kidnapped by locals, getting caught in the middle of a firefight between two U.S. security teams (each of whom thinks they're being fired on by insurgents), getting lost in the desert, and so on until they discover what all of the New World Army experimentation has finally come to.
The film starts out fairly strong - lightweight, to be sure, but charming in its eccentricities. Though McGregor's accent is often suspect, I think he nails the general essence of the character and he makes a decent straight man for all the wacky guys who surround him. Of these wacky guys, none is more so than Clooney (though Jeff Bridges, starring as the leader of the New World Army, gives him a run for his money). Generally speaking, when Clooney does a straight up comedy character I find that he goes way too broad and relies too much on a particular set of facial ticks and mannerisms, but since a character like Lyn calls for broadness in the performance, it ends up working well with Clooney's comedic instincts. All in all, whatever problems the film has really aren't rooted in the cast, which also includes Kevin Spacey in a deliciously subdued role as a rogue Jedi gone over to the darkside. The cast is fine; it's the screenplay that really sinks this whole enterprise.
Though it has its moments, The Men Who Stare At Goats plays out like a product from the poor man's Coen brothers. The humor is there - though, to be honest, it really is just the same couple of jokes over and over, which gets tedious - but the structure is not. The movie never really seems to know where it's going or what, exactly, it wants to do once it gets there. It makes a few half hearted attempts to comment on the powder keg of competing interests in Iraq, but it really doesn't have anything to say about the situation that hasn't already been said, and better, by many others over the past few years. I don't think The Men Who Stare At Goats is a truly bad movie, but I do think putting the screenplay through a couple more drafts and tightening things up would have served it well.