Maybe it’s the way the author of the novel, Jon Ronson, wanted it. Maybe it’s the all-star cast with the less-than-stellar script from screenwriter Peter Straughan. Either way, Grant Heslov’s “The Men Who Stare at Goats” was sadly ordinary and pretty unsatisfying.
The plot is flailing and obscure: Journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) heads to Iraq in search of a spectacular story after his wife leaves him for his editor. There, he meets Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), an alleged member of the U.S. Army’s First Earth Battalion, a unit that uses psychic capabilities to avoid physical confrontations. From there, Cassady drags Wilton along for a mission through the desert, constantly flashing back to the infantile years of the Batallion and giving Wilton a whole new story.
As to whether the events are true, as the trailer suggests, they probably hold about as much weight as any other “based on a true story” story. Uh, “Titanic,” anyone? But, sadly, I think the whole “truth” angle took away from the humor effect in the movie. The entire time, you can’t help but have that annoying thought in the back of your head saying, “This couldn’t have possibly happened,” and that makes it all the more difficult to enjoy. The title concept, that a man can stare a goat into dying, is itself ridiculous.
Jeff Bridges is probably the one silver lining in this film. He plays the founder of the First Earth Battalion, and the audience watches as his personality transforms from military captain to love guru, and later senile retiree. The way in which he truly believes in the psychic abilities of his “soldiers” is about as true as the story gets. And while I love the image of Kevin Spacey jabbing Clooney in the forehead with a death poke — and Clooney’s ensuing reaction — the film otherwise seemed a little too contrived.
What’s amazing about the star power in this film is that it makes you hesitate in calling it a bad movie. Clooney is always charming, and Spacey’s douchebaggery is exceptionally portrayed. Still, you leave the theater feeling empty. You’re not smiling, and you’re not cheering for the heroes either. Instead, you’re stuck in the limbo between high expectations and this shockingly average flick.
Despite an impressive cast, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” left me staring at the screen, and like the poor goat, the movie seemed dead on its feet. While the characters had some entertaining qualities, the overall feature failed to pull in laughs beyond the trailer clips.