Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor, whose portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi in "Star Wars Episodes I-III" is the only reason for his casting here, adding subtext to lame Jedi jokes) is a milquetoast Midwestern newspaper reporter who's just lost his wife to his editor. When he's sent to interview Gus Lacey (Stephen Root, "Office Space," "Leatherheads"), who tells him of a secret Army unit trained as psychic spies, Bob writes him off as a nut, but a chance meeting with Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), the man Gus said was the best of them all, inspires Bob to try to impress his wife by traveling to Iraq to learn all about "The Men Who Stare at Goats."
Director Grant Heslov, who wrote the Clooney directed "Good Night, and Good Luck." and acted in Clooney's "Leatherheads" didn't adapt "The Men Who Stare at Goats" but he probably should have. Screenwriter Peter Straughan (screenplay), who wrote the wonderful "Sixty-Six" and the abysmal "How to Lose Friends & Alienate People," takes the fascinating subject matter of Jon Ronson's book and renders it all kind of pointless. Even Clooney seems to be spinning his wheels here, playing the same self-aware looniness we've seen from him in Coen Brothers movies, just as Jeff Bridges is right back in "Big Lebowski" territory. One wishes we had more of Stephen Lang's ("Public Enemies") Brigadier General Dean Hopgood, the only truly captivating character here.
One should be astonished that the United States military actually funded the New Earth Army (actually The First Earth Battalion), created by Bridges's Bill Django (really Jim Channon, the guy who created the 'Be All You Can Be' motto) after observing that only 15% of soldiers were actually ready to shoot to kill in Vietnam. After spending six years indulging in such New Age pursuits as colonics, hot tubs and other forms of enlightenment, Django writes a manual about how to effect less violence in warfare using paranormal sensibilities. However, although we get flashbacks of Cassady coming up through the ranks, we're never given any psychic field operations, blunting the impact of the movement. There is also unresolved contradiction in that Django, a peace monger, has invented a method of attack using knives. The present day Iraq story is all rather ridiculous, a sporadically amusing riff on "The In-Laws" that is a lead up to a show down with Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey, doing that dead-eyed bad guy thing he does so well), whose jealousy of Cassady leads him to the 'dark side' (that Jedi thing again), including an unauthorized experiment with LSD that leads its subject to a rampage that strikes too close to home following the Fort Hood shootings.
There are some chuckles to be had, like the running gag that is Boston's 'More Than a Feeling,' but the satire here doesn't have enough edge. The Battle of Ramadi is revealed as having been because two contractors began accidentally firing upon each other and the fallout is shouldered by Mahmud (Waleed Zuaiter, "The Visitor"), a decent and honest Iraqi citizen. It's sad, not funny.
Robin did not see this film.
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