The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Men Who Stare at Goats

A movie that starts with a title card stating "More of this is true than you would believe" sends alarms off in my head, especially when it's a comedy.  To me it seems like a warning that what you are about to see is ridiculous, pretty stupid, and a cop out that if it does feel stupid, well too bad because it happened.  But because of the talent involved in 2009's The Men Who Stare at Goats I was willing to look past any issues I might have had going in. 

Certain movies need very little to pull viewers in.  It can be a star, the story, the director, anything really that catches someone's eye.  For me it was the scene in the trailer where Clooney literally stares a goat to death.  The look on his face, the music, the ridiculously awesome mustache, how could this not be a funny movie?  And really, any dark, quirky comedy in the veins of a Cohen brothers movie certainly has an appeal.  'Goats' has all that darkness, all that quirkiness you would expect.  But at a certain point in this recent comedy, it just stops being funny.  Go figure.

Working for a paper in Ann Arbor, Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) interviews a soldier who claims to be a member of a top secret Army mission from the 1980s that turned soldiers into psychic soldiers. Bob thinks the man is crazy, and moves on, only to have his wife leave him and send him into a tailspin.  He heads to Kuwait to prove he isn't a coward and there runs into Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a man also associated with this bizarre, top-secret mission that turned soldiers into as Lyn puts it 'Jedi warriors.'  Bob doesn't know what to make of this news but tags along with Lyn in hopes of trying to figure it all out.  Could it really happen though? Could Lyn be a psychic soldier, a Jedi warrior?

What works so well in answering that question is that director Grant Heslov chooses not to answer the question.  Are all these soldiers absolutely nuts, just off the wall crazy?  Or is there the slimmest chance that maybe, just maybe, it's all real?  The humor here is a good mix of physical comedy -- Stephen Lang as an Army general running at a wall believing he'll run through it only to smash into it -- and the more subtle variety, like Clooney trying to convince McGregor that his hypnosis will help them when really he's physically attacking someone.  There are some laugh out loud moments and early on, I was loving this movie.

There is a somewhat disjointed feel to the comedy because there's almost 3 different segments to the movie.  One, Bob and Lyn meeting and driving across Kuwait and Iraq running into all sorts of problems.  Some really funny moments there.  Two, Lyn's flashbacks of the process to become a Jedi Warrior in a school run by Colonel Bill Django, played by Jeff Bridges as a hippie, Army version of the Dude. And third, there's the last half hour as past and present collide in the middle of the Iraqi desert in a finale that just doesn't work and completely derails the movie.  With some off the wall humor, a ridiculous conclusion seems almost necessary, but the ending just doesn't work here.  It's trying too hard to be funny and comes up empty.

On the other hand, if a feature length movie of Bridges' Col. Django and his teaching techniques was ever made, count me in.  A Vietnam vet, Django requests time to study alternative forms of combat and ends up becoming a hippie who believes he can get soldiers to use their minds and powers to prevent war, not fight war.  Watching Bridges teach his students his tactics and techniques are definitely the high points of the movie.  Throw in Kevin Spacey as an a-hole student trying to one-up everyone around him, and you've got a good mix.  Clooney is always good doing comedy because he commits himself so far into the material, and McGregor is a good straight man the whole.  He's basically the viewer, questioning 'Really? This is serious?'

A good half-comedy if that makes any sense.  Here's my thinking; stop watching the movie after Bob and Lyn drive over an IED in the middle of the desert.  It goes downhill from there fast.  Now trying to sum it all up, I'm realizing how stupid this movie really was.  'Goats' is a very stupid movie with moments of brilliance; Clooney 'cloud bursting,' Django's school, and basically anything with Stephen Lang.  Know what you're getting into watching this movie, and maybe you'll like it more than I did.

The Men Who Stare at Goats <----trailer (2009): **/**** 

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