Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What's a Jedi Warrior? The Men Who Stare at Goats

Warning: Spoilers
(spoilage factor: not as bad as leaving a burger in the sun all day to try to cook it)


We went to see The Men Who Stare at Goats this past weekend. Not necessarily SF per se, but containing enough in the way of SF-related jokes and references, not to mention characters who take the paranormal to be perfectly normal, to merit a mention on this site (unlike, say, Pirate Radio, which was really good, but had nothing to do with SF, so sadly it couldn't fit into the focus hereabouts).

The story follows the misadventures of Bob Wilton (played by Ewan McGregor), a college-town journalist who gets dumped by his wife and sets off for Iraq - to prove himself to his wife and maybe win her back, and to try to land a good story. Stuck in Kuwait and wishing he could run with the big time war correspondants, Bob falls-in with the intense Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) who claims to be heading into Iraq to sign a deal to provide garbage cans. That all changes on the road when Lyn tells Bob he's actually a secret operative, trained by the military to use paranormal powers, and on a mission to find his old commanding officer, Bill Django (played by Jeff Bridges as a version of The Dude spiced with Tron's Kevin Flynn and Dr. Mark Powell from K-Pax). As the pair get deeper into trouble, eventually running afoul of Lyn's nemesis, Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), a failed SF writer (in what has to be slap against Hubbard) who gets off on mind control and power, Bob begins to belive that Lyn might not be entirely full of crap.

The Men Who Stare at Goats was deeply weird and, while not consistantly fall-out-of-your-seat hilarious, was funny enough to be worth watching. In fact, hearing a wide-eyed McGregor ask Clooney "What's a Jedi warrior?" was worth the price of admission. Other touches like the editor with the prosthetic arm who betrays him were nice little half-allusions to Star Wars and other SF. It's a film that has its points of menace and, in the hands of a cynic, could have become a very dark and disturbing tale about an unprepared journalist heading into a war zone, or about the lengths military and spy agencies will go to create new assets or to surpress opposition, but the tone is kept, appropriately, I think, light and it ends on a kind of fairy-tale note.

While I certainly didn't regret paying full price to see it, I think in terms of recommendations that the best value for staring at the screen for The Men Who Stare at Goats is to rent it.
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