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November 11, 2009 > Movie Preview: The Men Who Stare at Goats

Movie Preview: The Men Who Stare at Goats

Lame, avoid at all costs

By Joe Samagond

"The Men Who Stare at Goats" is based on a true story, from a book with the same name by Jon Ronson. The best thing about it is a strong star cast - George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey. This raises expectations. However, it's all downhill from there unfortunately.

The story bounces between the Vietnam-era '70s, to the '80s and ultimately to 2003. Bob Wilton (McGregor), a small-time journalist is in the grip of a midlife crisis when his marriage ends due to his wife's infidelity. He runs into Lyn Cassady (Clooney), a recently reactivated and slightly paranoid Army intelligence operative. Lyn soon reveals that he's part of a super-secret unit called the New Earth Army, trained to tap into and control his innate paranormal abilities. Under the guidance of Vietnam-vet-turned-New-Age-devotee Bill Django (Bridges), the New Earthers study to be "warrior monks" -- masters of non-lethal fighting who harness mind power. The title refers to a training exercise in which they learn to kill goats by - you guessed it - staring at them.

They head for Iraq on a mystery mission - one that gets sidetracked after they are captured by and escape from gun-packing local militia, and later find themselves in the hands of the PSIC, a psych corps run by pessimistic former comrade Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey). By the time Bob and Lyn gleefully free dozens of goats and a number of prisoners it's clear that the filmmakers are clueless. Director Grant Heslov, who wrote the masterful "Good Night, and Good Luck", makes a disastrous directorial debut. The movie seems like goofy fun until, in the last thirty minutes, Heslov asks us to seriously consider how much better our world would be if our soldiers were going to battle with only their minds. The picture does feature a few great scenes, mostly involving McGregor and Clooney's characters bickering and sparring.

The movie has much to work with and yet inarticulately chops up the narrative between flashbacks and the present. The script, by Peter Straughan, is quite banal and provides no more than a snicker or two. The whole enterprise comes off as an inside joke that only the director, writer and actors are in on. When the movie is over, you will scratch your head and wonder how you could have better used your time.


Rated: R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). War violence
Runtime: 95 minutes

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