By Riley Simpson
“The Men Who Stare at Goats”
-Two and a half out of four stars
It would be an understatement to say that I was excited for the new Overture Films black comedy “The Men Who Stare at Goats” after seeing the trailer on imdb.com.
I was ecstatic. I was frantic.
I was in a “Goat” frenzy! I even had the cliché calendar-on-the-wall-with-big-day-circled-in-red-and-all-days-leading-up-to-it-crossed-out-with-X’s-thing in my room.
My physician even diagnosed me with the rare but serious G1N1 disease (goat flu)!
Unfortunately, my time and energy probably would’ve been spent better elsewhere. Why?
“Goats” is just another movie that chocks its trailers and commercials full of the funniest moments to convince people to see it. This trick is used solely for economic gain and tarnishes the whole movie-going experience. Case in point: when psychic soldiers Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) crashes his car in the middle of the Iraqi dessert, what does his travel companion (Ewan McGregor) say? “Gee, you had like the whole desert to drive in, Lyn!” When watching the trailer, I gave quite a hearty chuckle. But when I experienced this joke in the theater, I found myself forcing laughter.
Other moments like these, along with overly offbeat moments lead “Goats” astray.
McGregor plays Bob Wilton, a Michigan journalist in the Middle East researching an amazing story about the U.S. Military’s secret New Earth Army, a division of psychic super soldiers founded in the 70s (don’t worry, a plethora of flashbacks thoroughly cover the squad’s history). Wilton tags along with Cassady on his secret mission by venturing into the deserts of Iraq.
Clooney plays the uneven Lyn with amazing comic ability. His half crazy, half brilliant paranormal portrayal earns at least 50 percent of the movie’s laughs. He also refers to himself and his psychic colleagues as “Jedi,” earning some consistent laughs with some other “Star Wars” references, including “the Dark Side” and “the Force.”
Acting vets Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey round off the main cast. Bridges plays the founder of the New Earth Army, semi-recycling his hippie-character from the 1998 Cohen brothers movie, “The Big Lebowski.” Spacey co-stars as the mediocre villain of “Goats,” undermining Bridges’ company every chance he gets. But because a lack of screen time and character development, both actors’ tremendous talent is wasted.
McGregor’s Wilton is meek with a touch of pathetic. In all his scenes, he’s either getting beaten up, shot at or dully narrating the story along. Some bright spots include when he and Lyn are taking about goat-staring as “the silence of the goats.”
Speaking of the title, it is a strange one, isn’t it? “The Men Who Stare at Goats:” it’s rather vague and obscure; and it doesn’t give any insight into the plot or characters, other than the bearded animals. What’s more, the title is untrue, according to the rest of the film. The act of goat-staring, and subsequently the stopping of their hearts, is extremely frowned upon in the movie. Also, only one man throughout the entire film stares at a goat, since the act is so evil.
Director Grant Heslov, a pal of George Clooney, makes his first real film with “Goats.” It’s not a bad start, considering the movie does have its moments. His main problem is the erratic flow of the movie. It starts out at a medium pace, but then completely deflates in the middle. With that slowness, one would expect a big finish, right? Wrong. What we get is an underplayed finale that doesn’t satisfy.
When asked about his interests, Lyn answers, “Rock music. Mostly Boston.” And boy, does Heslov drive that point home, which isn’t a bad thing. “More Than a Feeling,” the band’s famous song, is played twice in the movie, and injects some life into the slow parts.
The screenplay by Peter Straughan, adapted by Jon Ronson’s book of the same title, has its moments of comic brilliance, including the “Star Wars” references and one scene involving the New Earth Army’s super-effective technology (one, a piece o’ crap meat-cooker, the other, a hand held weapon that “can hurt you in 100 different ways”). Straughan also begins and ends “Goats” with a nice circular structure that almost makes up for the uneven 90 minutes that followed. Almost.
Although the movie is supposed to be an offbeat satire, it sometimes gets a little too strange. In a few scenes, we see Clooney inject himself with “steroids,” as he calls it, but Heslov never cares to explain why. Near the middle of the movie, Cassady and Wilton are picked up by a private security convoy, selling American goods in Middle Eastern markets. The group end up in a gunfight with a rival security company in an Iraqi village. Yet their appearance is limited to this scene alone. Again, I found myself asking “why?”
I have a feeling that “Goats” is just a half-baked and inconsistent comedy that could’ve done with more pasteurization.
More than a feeling, actually.