How do you play funny when you’re the World’s Most Charming Man? Simple, you don a comedy moustache.
It worked a treat for George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and it works here, too, the heartthrob channelling his Coen brothers slap-schtick to highly entertaining effect in this amusing if moderately caustic satire inspired by British writer Jon Ronson’s remarkable non-fiction book.
Ronson stand-in Bob Wilton (McGregor) is a reporter on a small-town Michigan newspaper who, during an interview with a local psychic (Stephen Lang), chances upon the extraordinary tale of the New Earth Army: a secret division of the US military established in the wake of ’Nam to explore non-lethal psychic/paranormal alternatives to combat.
Hightailing it to Iraq to prove his mettle, Bob bumps into Clooney’s ex-soldier Lyn Cassady. Formerly the most gifted of the New Earth Army’s psychic spies, Cassady claims to have been ‘reactivated’, leading Bob behind enemy lines as he recounts the backstory of the self-styled ‘Jedi Warriors’ who were taught to pass through walls, burst clouds, read minds and even kill goats by staring at them, under the tutelage of Jeff Bridges’ hippy commander Bill Django.
As the plot flashes back and forth in time, Clooney gets to indulge himself in ridiculous wigs and facial hair, while Bridges, goateed and pony-tailed, slips back into his Dude persona with consummate ease.
Largely jettisoning the darker investigative and political elements of Ronson’s book in favour of something broader and more farcical, the script by Peter Straughan (How To Lose Friends & Alienate People) keeps the gags coming.
Trouble is, it never really finds a satisfying framework to peg them on, the perfunctory plot running out of steam about two-thirds of the way through.
Director Grant Heslov – co-writer/producer of Good Night, And Good Luck – is instead content to let his stellar cast off the comic leash, resulting in a series of screwball sketches – fast, funny but somewhat forgettable.
This Coens-lite comedy squeezes every last drop of craziness from its source but is undone by a thin third act. McGregor’s a good straight man, but it’s Clooney’s show.