The Men Who Stare at Goats (Overture Films, R)

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mwsagthumb.jpgThe Men Who Stare at Goats isn’t bad, but it isn’t nearly as good as it seems like it should be.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Men Who Stare at Goats begins with a title card: “More of this is true than you would believe.” Based on Jon Ronson’s nonfiction book, Goats tells the story of Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a slightly paranoid holdover from a not-too-long-ago era when the government was experimenting with psychic powers for military benefit. Accompanying him on what might be a special ops mission, or what might just be some weird delusional quest, is reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor, in a role that is apparently supposed to stand in for Ronson), who just happened into Cassady while looking for something to report on while embedded. By a coincidence involving a doodle of Wilton’s, the two unlikely buddies travel across the Middle East trying to avoid the bad guys, be they Iraqi or American.

As promising as the premise is (its war-plus-absurdity model mirrors another Clooney-in-the-Middle East pic, the underrated Three Kings), the cast is even more compelling: aside from the aforementioned Clooney and McGregor, both of whom I love, we have Jeff Bridges as the head of the military’s psychic training program (‘The New Earth Army’), Bill Django, in a role that can’t help but call The Dude to mind, and Kevin Spacey as Larry Hooper, the invariable powerful American psychic who gets power hungry and turns bad. What’s more, it was directed by constant Clooney collaborator Grant Heslov, co-writer of Good Night, and Good Luck. So how bad can this thing really be?

Well, The Men Who Stare at Goats isn’t bad, but it isn’t nearly as good as it seems like it should be. As great as the cast is, only Clooney’s character is compelling, with all of the others being outright grating, especially McGregor’s superfluous Wilton, who whines for the duration of the movie. Aside from the character being annoying, Wilton’s function in the movie seems primarily to lend a framing device to the story, which actually only serves to take the viewer out of the movie, and not to get them into it. At least some play is given to having McGregor say lines like “What’s a Jediwarrior?” with a straight face, which is funny if you are familiar with McGregor’s oeuvre (coughObi-Wancoughcough).

And that’s what The Men Who Stare at Goats ultimately amounts to—a sub-par Zucker brothers take on an installment in the Star Wars series, if it were somehow relocated in time to the present. In theory, that sounds like it might be kind of funny, but in practice, it’s maybe marginally watchable, at best. | Pete Timmermann

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