George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Mader DIRECTED BY
Grant Heslov SCREENPLAY
Peter Straughan MPAA RATING
Rated R RUNNING TIME
93 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY
In possessing what is surely one of the year's oddest titles for a film, "The Men Who Stare at Goats" nearly lives up to the absurdity of its title with a decidedly intelligent, witty approach to comedy that is refreshingly unique from the majority of potty mouth, bathroom humor comedies that seem to fill our multiplexes these days.
Starring George Clooney, "The Men Who Stare at Goats" actually isn't as absurd as you might believe.
So says Clooney, as Lyn Cassady, who confesses to reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) that he is one of the military's trained Jedi Warriors, an elite combat unit trained in mental combat and possessing such gifts as reading enemy's thoughts, passing through solid walls and, yes, staring at goals until they simply keel over dead.
Led and developed by Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), who has come up missing, this elite brigade of new age warriors are to be the soldiers to possess true super powers.
Thus, the verbal jousting begins as director Grant Heslov and screenwriter Peter Straughan weave their way through a minefield of witty, deadpan humor as Django founds the New Earth Army, a collective of ponytailed visionaries dedicated to finding out if peace and love can win wars (they can't, at least not in "The Men Who Stare at Goats").
One of the reasons that "The Men Who Stare at Goats" nearly works is an ensemble cast that is clearly having fun and yet another in a growing list of absurdly satisfying performances from the risk-taking George Clooney. So refreshingly unpredictable is "The Men Who Stare at Goats" that one nearly doesn't mind the way in which the film sometimes seem like an absurdist series of character sketches from a new age version of "Saturday Night Live."
Adapted from a rather controversial book by Jon Ronson, "The Men Who Stare at Goats" only starts to go awry when Peter Straughan detours away from Ronson's writing and creates an unnecessary, formulaic rivalry between good psychic (Clooney) and Hooper, a not so good psychic (Kevin Spacey). While their interactions are funny and both actors are certainly up to the task, the scenes lack the intelligence and cohesion evident throughout the rest of the film.
The truth is that "The Men Who Stare at Goats" is likely to have a limited appeal to audiences, likely attracting a relatively wide release only on the basis of Clooney's clout and the presence of his co-stars. Otherwise, "The Men Who Stare at Goats" is typical arthouse fare for moviegoers with a more adventurous taste.
Camera work by Robert Elswit is delightful, filled with quirky visuals and wide-angle lensing that captures the broad scope of the film's absurdist humor. Elswit clearly gets what Heslov and crew are trying to accomplish, and captures both the elements of truth and humor in the film's goings on.
Indeed, it is disturbing and hilarious to realize how much truth is contained in "The Men Who Stare at Goats."
While "The Men Who Stare at Goats" begins to lose its focus in its final third, the film cements Clooney's reputation for finding and bringing to light some of today's best independent cinema to an audience who wouldn't be caught dead walking into an arthouse theatre.