Tuesday, February 16, 2010


More of this is bad than you would believe

By Edward Copeland
When a strange movie starts out promisingly but soon starts plummeting further and further into an abyss of awfulness, you get that feeling of plunging off a cliff yourself. The Men Who Stare at Goats seems to set out to be a wild, absurdist comedy supposedly inspired by true events. Its talented (and wasted) cast is led by Ewan McGregor and part of the story concerns a top secret Army program named for Jedis after the Star Wars films. To give you an indication of how truly bad this film is, seeing McGregor and hearing Jedi made me wish that I instead were watching The Phantom Menace — even with Jar-Jar Binks. Yes, it's that bad.

Co-starring with McGregor are George Clooney and Jeff Bridges, the two leading contenders in this year's Oscar race for best actor. They better hope no Academy members found time to watch this stinker of a screener or their deserving performances in Up in the Air and Crazy Heart respectively might get reflexively punished. Clooney even helped produce this mess so he might have even more to lose.

McGregor plays Bob Wilton, a newspaper reporter whose wife leaves him for his editor. After interviewing a man (Stephen Root) who tells of a secret Army project he was a part of that investigated the use of psychic powers in warfare. Aimless and depressed, Bob does the natural thing for a reporter from a midsize paper at the beginning of the Iraq War: He finances his own way to Kuwait to try to find a story to convince his estranged wife that he's worthwhile.

While stuck in a Kuwaiti hotel covering some sort of contractor convention, he stumbles upon Lyn Cassady (Clooney), one of the most gifted of the secret program who feels some connection to Bob and fills him in on the program's past and takes him into Iraq. At least I think he's the one who tells Bob the story. Bob narrates the entire tale in all-knowing voiceover, but it's really unclear how he happened upon most of the details.

As I lie here trying to recount the events of this turd, it seems like such a waste of time to even try to describe the plot. This could have worked if the right talents had written and directed it, creating a sort of Fear and Loathing in Ramadi, but the longer it goes on, the stupider and more pointless it becomes. Kevin Spacey shows up as some kind of writer, I think, who gets into the Army project and hates everyone.

Bridges, bless his heart, manages to give the best performance as a trippy leader of the unit who fell out of a helicopter in Vietnam and came up with the idea for the project, which he hoped would actually lead to warfare that really was peace, but Spacey is the villain (again, I think) who wants to keep things lethal. Eventually, it returns in the form of private contractors working for the U.S. in Iraq.

The movie's sheer badness reaches such a level that I have no qualms about revealing spoilers about the climax: It involves LSD slipped into eggs and the water supply while Clooney and Bridges escape and no, I'm not sure what the hell that means.

The Men Who Stare at Goats was directed by Grant Heslov, who co-wrote Good Night, and Good Luck. with Clooney. Peter Straughan wrote the adaptation of Jon Ronson's book. Neither made a positive career move.

As I suffered through the 90 minutes of this nonsense, watching George Clooney running around sand dunes, I did turn meditative as some of the operatives did and developed my own mantra to help me cope: "Why aren't I watching Three Kings? Why aren't I watching Three Kings? Why aren't I watching Three Kings..."

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Nailed it.

Yeah, this film is terrible, and not even in a fun unintentional humor kind of way. Such a shame.
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