If someone told you that there was once an American military programme to create psychic soldiers, would you believe them? Possibly not. But what is believable is that this topic makes for a hilarious film premise.
The story begins with journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor, again donning an American accent) in the middle of personal crisis. As we all know the best solution to a personal crisis is to head off to war-torn Iraq, and so off he goes. Once there, however, it’s not the rollercoaster ride he expects; that is, until he meets Lyn Cassady (an ever on-form George Clooney).
It turns out that Lyn is a former psychic soldier, a man trained by the military to develop extra-sensory powers which culminated in him killing a goat with the power of his mind. He has been called to Iraq on a mission, but he has been called through psychic perception and has no idea what the mission is. So, Lyn and Bob bumble through the desert in search of their destiny.
Believe-it-or-not, the story is inspired by real events (narrated in a genuine non-fiction book by Jon Ronson) which saw the US military invest in a programme whereby a special unit was paid to stare, day-in-day-out, at goat: willing it to die in the hope that they could turn themselves into weaponless killing machines in the battle for supremacy over the Soviets.
Of course, this film deviates from Ronson’s accounts but it draws on all of the absurdity of the original events to create a comedy that taps brilliantly into the public desire to see both military activity and wasted government funds brutally satirised. That said, the film never strays too far into the political, and largely avoids making overt comments on present conflicts as it meanders through the oddball archive section it has selected as subject matter. This allows the film to be the pure escapism it needs to be, and it’s all the stronger for it.
There are some excellent comedy elements to the film, including Lyn’s use of shock-and-awe knife fighting tactics – without knives – a return to a Dude-esque character for Jeff Bridges, and a superb bit-part for Kevin Spacey and a bitter, jealous psychic out to ruin the more talented Lyn Cassady. But when the comedy is stripped away, the plot is a little thin. What’s more, the ending feels like a cop out after the journey through the bizarre events preceding it.
Nonetheless, this is primarily a character-based comedy and, rated as such, it is an excellent film that whips a lot of the mediocre competition its faced in the genre this year. Brilliant performance from the cast, and a palatable American accent from Ewan McGregor, make this an eminently watchable and thoroughly enjoyable Friday-night movie.