The Men Who Stare at Goats is consistently funny and occasionally inspired (fueled mainly by the stellar cast), playing like a mainstream Coen Brothers film—but it's not quite as good as it could've been, or should've. To the extent it falls short of its potential, the deficiencies are all directorial.  Debut helmer Grant Heslov is George Clooney's long-time producer (they've switched roles for the first time) and his worst offense is that he plays it safe. 

The tone is broad but should disturb more than it does (the few efforts come too late), and so while the laughs are earned they never really bite.  The final act especially stumbles as it strains for nobility, suddenly sentimentalizing characters and actions that had been previously mocked.  It's a bit of schmaltz unbecoming a satire, a genre of which "feel good" should never be a goal. 

Political bias seeps in a bit, too, as these endeavors are seen as well-intended while the prevue of the government, but become "corrupt" once transferred to private contractors.  Wilton's constant voice-over is also too much, filling in blanks and providing context to elements that would be better left enigmas.

So it's not perfect.  So what?  The Men Who Stare at Goats still makes for a good time at the movies, is a solid Hollywood entertainment that avoids formula more than it succumbs to it, and at this time of year when many films are unabashed self-important Oscar-baits it's refreshing to have one entry (from former Oscar nominees and winners, no less) that's main goal is to simply make us laugh.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:   Drug and pot use, though for absurd comedic effect. 
  • Language/Profanity:  Full range of profanities used, including several F-words and occasional uses of the Lord's name in vain.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  A few instances of brief nudity.  Bare breasts are seen as people sit in a hot tub.  Rear male nudity is shown on two occasions.
  • Violence/Other:  A short scene of warfare.  A man commits suicide (off-screen).  Overall, potentially offensive content is not pervasive (this will make for an easy TV broadcast edit), coming in bursts, but the R-rating is earned.

Jeffrey Huston is a film director, writer and producer at Steelehouse Productions in Tulsa, Okla.  He is also cohost of "Steelehouse Podcast," along with Steelehouse Executive Creative Mark Steele, where each week they discuss God in pop culture. 

To listen to the weekly podcast, please visit www.steelehouse.com or click here.  You can also subscribe to "Steelehouse Podcast" through iTunes.