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The Men Who Stare at Goats Review


RATING:
(2 STARS)

The opening of “The Men Who Stare at Goats” tells the viewer “more of this is true than you would believe.” But it’s definitely not more entertaining than I believed. With a cast that features George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, and Kevin Spacey, how could you go wrong? Well, this film answers that question. It’s just boring. Yes, a film about psychic spies, known as Jedis, is boring. It’s a short film (only slightly more than 90 minutes), but it seems to go on and on without any clear direction. And it completely wastes the great cast and potentially interesting plot.

When journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) discovers his wife is sleeping with his editor, he decides it’s time for an adventure. So he heads to Kuwait in the hopes of meeting someone who will get him across the Iraqi border. That person comes in the form of Lyn Cassady (George Clooney): a retired military man who served in the “New Earth Army,” a group that used “Jedi mind powers,” like invisibility and mind control, rather than guns to defeat their foes. And while Wilton and Cassady mosey on through the Iraqi countryside, Cassady tells his new friend all about the history of the New Earth Army and its Jedi master, Bill Django (Jeff Bridges).

Now doesn’t that sound like an intriguing premise for a dark comedy (especially when you consider that the film warns you that some of these things might actually be true)? I suppose it all falls apart in the execution. The biggest problem I had with “The Men Who Stare at Goats” was not the over-the-top silliness of it all (believe it or not, I’m capable of letting go and enjoying some mindless humor now and again), but rather the structure used to put the film together. We spend nearly 20 minutes with Bob before he even meets Lyn. They spend another 15 minutes getting to know each other and sauntering around in Iraq. We get about 20 minutes of the history of the New Earth Army. That’s about two-thirds of the film. What’s left is supposed to be for an actual storyline, but it appears that first-time director Grant Heslov (who co-wrote “Good Night and Good Luck” and “Leatherheads” with Clooney) is more interested in just telling you about this crazy army unit. The material here seems better suited for a documentary than a narrative film. There’s no narrative to speak of!

I can’t really fault the performances for making this film disappointing, but they don’t do too much to elevate it. Ewan McGregor does his usual thing here (I don’t even know what that is anymore, but it’s not all that impressive). It is kind of funny to hear him going on about Jedis again though. Clooney, probably my favorite working actor, plays a variation of his “Burn After Reading” character, but with less success. Kevin Spacey his virtually nothing to do (pretty accurate of his film career lately – besides voicing Gerty in “Moon,” what the hell has he been in since “Superman Returns?”). The best performance goes to Jeff Bridges, whose Bill Django is slightly reminiscent of The Dude. He’s the film’s most memorable character (if there is such a thing with this film) because he has the funniest scenes and the most heart.

On the whole, however, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” is instantly forgettable stuff. I really wanted to like it. I thought the premise sounded hilarious, and the cast is dynamite. But there’s no getting around the fact that the actual story is razor-thin. This film just goes to show you that all the stars in the world don’t necessarily mean your picture will be successful. I love a lot of these actors, but this won’t be something to highlight on their resumes.

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