On the Aisle: The Men Who Stare at Goats

By Tony Macklin

I think I stared too intently at the screen and made “The Men Who Stare at Goats” comatose. It is stilted whimsy; it’s a superficial romp and slog through familiar sand. The story may be new, but the sensibility and style is as worn as a TV sitcom.

These days it seems contemporary films about the military go to Iraq to expire. Goats joins Robert Redford’s “Lions for Lambs” as a menagerie of starts and fits and wasted opportunities.

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” is merely a slight, innocuous diversion. It depends on how tolerant you are of such meanderings as to how much you will enjoy it.

Based on a book by Jon Ronson loosely based on actual people, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” is the story of men who tried to use their minds to dissolve clouds, poleax goats, run through walls and accomplish other phantom endeavors. They use “sparkly eye” and other mental techniques.

In the movie Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) is a disciple of the founder of the spiritual First Earth Battalion, Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), who gets the military to train hand picked candidates to use psychic powers. But Django is betrayed by one of his envious trainees Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) and Django leaves his position in disgrace.

Reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) meets Lyn and goes to Iraq with him in hopes of recovering his own manhood and exploring a tantalizing story. Lyn, Bob, Django, Larry and goats all come together in trippy reunion.

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” is another movie with an inviting name cast that gives them little sustenance. Clooney, Bridges, McGregor and Spacey should rock the house and create a memorable experience. Instead they seem rejects from a weary rerun of television’s M*A*S*H (Robert Altman hated the TV show adapted from his film).

Clooney mugs, Bridges reprises his dudeness, McGregor is flummoxed and Spacey scowls. The goats have as much or more personality than their human counterparts.

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” has a dated quality—an LSD trip is the climax. It belongs in the 1970s.

Altman or even Mike Nichols would have gotten more out of the proceedings. They are reminders of what originality can do and what lack of originality can’t.

Clooney is a very popular actor, but he’s made coasting a major career move. Since he can do no wrong in many people’s eyes, he doesn’t do enough right.

Much of the blame goes to friendship. Clooney and Grant Heslov, the director and co-producer of “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” have been friends since 1982.

Curious George ain’t curious anymore. He’s set in his easy-going ways. He allows his buddy Heslov to direct their latest enterprise.

Too much of the movie is randomly strung together. It needs a forceful director, not just a conventional friend. It is one of those movies that have their best moments in the previews. The previews are better than the movie itself.

McGregor told USA Today that a remarkable thing happened when he was shooting a scene in the desert. A goat stopped and looked directly at him for an extended period. But the shot was ruined when sand got in the camera. It’s an apt metaphor for the whole movie.

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” has no edge. Clooney, et al. are running the danger of becoming old goats.

Categories: Entertainment