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Men Who Stare at Goats, The


Stars: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Robert Patrick, Stephen Lang, Stephen Root, Glenn Morshower

Director: Grant Heslov

This Iraqi war comedy - yes, you read that right - has elements of M*A*S*H about its implausibilities and irreverence, but never quite enough. And it does sway along like a camel negotiating a desert dune.

'More of this is true,' claims the beginning, 'than you could possibly imagine'. This disclaimer refers to crazy days in the 1980s when the US military was experimenting with things that sound absurd, in an effort to resolve conflicts without fatalities.

'Race-specific stink bombs' and 'attack bees' were both considered by the First Earth Battalion, called the New Earth Army in the film, as well as methods that reached even further into the semi-fantastic, such as 'staring with sparkly eye'.

'After all,' snarls one officer, 'we can't afford to have the Russians leading the field of the paranormal.'

Ditched by his wife, journalist Bob Wilton (McGregor) becomes a war correspondent (equivalent, perhaps, to joining the Foreign Legion) and soon encounters Lyn Cassady (Clooney), a key member of the now-disbanded NEA, who is on a 'mission' in Iraq. 'We're Jedi. We don't fight with guns; we fight with our minds,' he tells a bemused Wilton, before sending him crashing with a judo throw.

Cassady's 'mission' involves kidnap by insurgents - after a trip through the desert where one half expects Hope and Crosby to pop up from the nearest dune - before finding his former CO (a gung-ho Bridges), now a lackey to arch-enemy Hooper (Spacey, below par).

Even though Clooney has just the right wide-eyed devotion to the potty cause, to those not attuned to its brand of believe-it-or-not wackiness, this may seem a long 95 minutes. Those who swallow its giddy brew whole may want to give it a couple of extra stars. And nit-pickers will note that there is only one man staring at one goat.

David Quinlan

USA 2009. UK Distributor: Momentum. Colour by deluxe.
95 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 1, Swearing 1.

Review date: 30 Oct 2009