Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Weeks Too Late: The Men Who Stare At Goats

The Men Who Stare at Goats. Directed by Grant Hesloy & Written by Peter Straughan.

Preconceptions: Kevin Spacey, Ewan McGregor and Jeff Bridges, you say? In a movie about the army being weird during the cold war and trying to unlock psychic gifts, you say? Well, well, well, I say that I'm there. What a wonderfully goofy idea for a movie. I thought it was going to be fun, kooky and generally a hoot. I expected laughs and to be clapping my hands like an idiot.

General Review
: This movie caused no idiotic hand clapping. It was a recipe for delight that ended up looking like most of my disastrous forays into the kitchen (where I have no place). Alright, alright, perhaps it wasn't as bad as all that, after all, I hardly had to spend any time at all scraping the guck out of the DVD player (the same can't be said of the oven).

The movie unnecessarily had three main plot lines. One of Ewan McGregor's loser life, one of George Clooney's redemption and one of George Clooney's past. You get pieces of each as the flick drones on. So far as I could tell the only reason Ewan McGregor's plot line existed at all was so that he could narrate the movie (I think I've been pretty clear on my feeling regarding the vestigial narrator: it's laziness).

Speaking of unnecessary, flipping back and forth between the time lines was an utterly pointless stylistic choice. I like a good striptease of the main character's backstory as much as the next hotblooded Canadian, but this felt like it was done because that's what the director had seen other oddball movies do. There was no reason this couldn't have been done strictly linearly. Maybe the director was trying to hide the telegraphed plot beats. Well, it failed.

If the movie had been stripped of the pointless plot threads and pared down to its core it could have been worth watching. It felt like there was an interesting movie in there, but that it was drowning in its own fat. I think it was the wasted potential that made the movie seem even worse than it was.

The only bits that weren't humdrum were the flashbacks to George Clooney's training days in the psychic division of the army (that's right: the psychic division of the army-why wasn't this movie awesome?).

To be fair, the fault wasn't entirely in the snoresville directing and writing. I can honestly say that I have never found myself wishing Ewan McGregor out of a movie. He's charming and talented (and, not to mention, easy on the eyes). I was baffled by his uninspired performance in this. His accent slipped in and out like any low rent Kevin Cosner. His performance lacked all semblance of charm and he utterly failed to make me care what happened to his character. About half way through I started willing Jason Bateman to take his place (and while I love Jason Batemen, he's no Ewan McGregor). Bateman's got a similar look to McGregor's character in this and plays a much more likable loser.

The rest of the cast wasn't bad. It was nice to see Kevin Spacey doing some more weird stuff. I enjoyed Jeff Bridges in this, but I think he might be joining the Sad Old Man School of Acting (as taught by Bill Murray). And it didn't skew me one way or the other on my waffling feelings about George Clooney's acting abilities. None of these guys were as unimpressive as McGregor but none of them did anything stunning either. From a cast like this I really expected more. A bunch of C-listers could have given the exact same performances for a whole lot cheaper.

I know you guys, you'll be tempted by the cast, the plot and lets face it, the rad title. Don't be fooled by this flick's lies. It's either a good movie dressed up in a bad movie costume, or a bad movie flashing some razzle dazzle. Save yourself the time.

Random Thoughts: I kept expecting Stephen Lang (playing a strange brigadier) to be J.K. Simmons, but I guess he probably would have been wasted in this anyways.

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