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The Men Who Stare at Goats

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It's hard to imagine a movie about the U.S. military training soldiers to discover their psychic powers that wouldn't be fun, especially if it's played for laughs. And the first half of Grant Heslov's directorial debut, The Men Who Stare at Goats, doesn't disappoint.The action begins when heartbroken reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) heads off to imbed himself with troops as the Iraq War starts, but Wilton can't get himself into the country until he chances upon Lyn Cassady. It turns out Lyn spent decades as part of the New Earth Army -- a platoon of men, led by Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), who lived a new-age lifestyle in an attempt to cultivate extrasensory perception that would allow the U.S. army to win wars nonviolently. Bill now has a secret mission in Iraq, and allows Bob to come along. As the duo gets into a series of misadventures, Lyn shares with Bob the colorful history of the New Earth Army and chronicles the nefarious machinations of Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), whose jealousy of Lyn's remarkable skill brought an end to the group.With material this quirky and satirical, it's a good thing Heslov shows a flair for comedy. He knows how to accentuate the laughs through editing and framing -- most notably in a scene involving an IED -- and he's very good with his actors. George Clooney is screamingly funny playing Lyn's rigid military training and his free-spirited mind against each other in ways that make the character unique -- he's a haunted hippie/dreamer/warrior. He's well-matched by Bridges, who brings an appropriate Dude-like vibe to the proceedings, as well as Spacey, who delivers yet another amusing turn as a naturally loathsome a-hole.If only the script by Peter Straughan (very loosely adapted from a nonfiction book by Jon Ronson) had a stronger narrative through-line, the whole movie might have maintained its satirical edge throughout, becoming a bizarre cross between The X-Files and Stripes. Unfortunately, the wind comes out of the movie's sails in the second half, after we discover the goal of Lyn's sojourn behind enemy lines, and nothing from that point on has the imaginative bite of the movie's opening hour. But there are plenty of big laughs in The Men Who Stare at Goats, and it doesn't take psychic powers to see that first-time director Heslov, with a stronger story, is capable of great things. Perry Seibert, All Movie Guide

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