Hannah Scribbles

Review: Staring at goats could be bad for you

In Movies/TV, Pop Culture! on April 12, 2011 at 1:19 pm

You’re not supposed to laugh about roadside bombs, but that is the joke’s punch line.  You’re snickering, a hand to your mouth to hide it, but the amusement is showing through.  Comedy strikes again.

“The Men  Who Stare At Goats,” a dark comedy set during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, features a voice over by Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), the lead character, that leaves you humored and bemused but not gripped by outright laughs.

Wilton is an average reporter for the Ann Arbor Times who travels to Iraq prove himself and to make his ex-wife jealous.  While waiting to cross the Kuwait-Iraq border as an embedded reporter, he meets Lyn Skip Cassady (played by a mustachioed George Clooney), an ex-military contractor with slightly crazed eyes and a sincere belief that he is a Jedi warrior – but not the kind you might think.  Whalton joins up with Cassady to cover his story on what turns out to be an explosive and absurd mission through the Iraq.

Cassady explains that he was the most gifted student of Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), a hippie officer, during the U.S. Army’s experiment with paranormal techniques that created a new sector called the New Earth Army.  He is a sincere believer in the New Earth Army while his reporter companion, whose mocking voice over lampoons the earnest mission at hand, is at first dubious of his psychological powers and sense of direction.

However ridiculous the storyline, this partially-true story is supported by a willing cast that plays through the absurdity with straight-faced determination.  For proof of great acting, one need only look at Clooney’s reaction to McGregor’s declaration that he wanted to be a Jedi, which had me in stitches.  The duo plays off McGregor’s presence in the Star Wars prequel trilogy by ignoring it, which is either a brilliant joke or a misplaced distraction.

The drawback to this movie is that you can’t tell whether the jokes are intentional.  If they are jokes, should I laugh at that?  Most of the comedy comes from inserting such a high level of absurdity into such a serious setting, and that doesn’t fly with a lot of people.  Confused, they watch on and wonder where the comedy is.  It’s there, moviegoers, but if you missed it the first time I warn you not to try again.  It won’t make any more sense the second time around.

Running Time:  94 minutes

Director:  Grant Heslov

Rating:  C+


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