The Men Who Stare at Goats is one of those movies you see a commercial for a couple of weeks before it’s released. It has some big names attached, so after you see it you say, “Hmm. Might have to check that one out.” You go the movies by yourself, because hey, you like to do that every now and then. That night at home, your wife asks you what you did that day, and you reply without even looking away from the TV, “Uhh…oh yeah. I saw that movie. The goats one.”
Ewan McGregor plays Bob Wilton, a reporter who, after a messy separation with his wife, has come to the Middle East, not only to report on the war, but to prove to himself that he has what it takes to do it. Wilton finds more than he bargained for when he meets Lyn Cassady (Clooney), who tells him that he was once part of a top secret military unit involved in psychic warfare. Wilton goes into Iraq with Cassady on a mission to find Bill Django (Bridges), Cassady’s former commander and the founder of the Army’s psychic battalion.
To me, The Men Who Stare at Goats has a lot in common with the The Informant (which you may or may not remember). Both are lighthearted, quirky comedies, and both are pretty deadpan in their presentation. I think Goats works out better in the end because you understand why it’s a comedy. The thought that the Army would actually invest money and resources into creating psychic soldiers — or as Jeff Bridges calls them, warrior-monks — is ridiculous. Another reason the movie is like The Informant is because of how forgettable it is. After seeing it and telling your friends that it was pretty funny, you’re probably not going to think about it much more, if at all. Which is a shame because, judging from the trailers, this is a movie I felt should have been bigger.
Clooney turns in a solid performance. His character is funny without coming off as a borderline schizophrenic (Burn After Reading?). Ewan McGregor is pretty solid himself, although it takes you a little big to get used to him talking in an American accent. One of the funniest parts about his role is the fact that the movie keeps making references to Jedis. I remembered, “Oh yeah. He was in Star Wars. I had forgotten about that because of how much the prequels sucked.”
Kevin Spacey works really well as Kevin Spacey. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great actor but his role here is so small I almost wonder why he did the movie at all. Maybe it’s that after you make a certain amount of money, you can start taking on roles just ’cause. I’d say that Jeff Bridges as psychedelic love child Bill Django really makes the movie. Watching Bridges prance around with his hippie necklaces and ponytail while tripping on LSD is going to be fun for anyone, not the least because of the fond memories of The Big Lebowski it brings back.
The movie is funny. It’s well-acted. Why would it be forgettable? I think that in the end it’s because the movie doesn’t really know what to do with itself. The plot meanders throughout and only seems to finally settle on something because, damn, it’s been 90 minutes already and we need to start wrapping this thing up. At first we’re focused on McGregor and his desire to prove himself as a man, then we settle on Clooney and his role in the Army, and finally we’re focusing on Bridges, who gets a chance at redeeming himself after being drummed out of the military. It’s not a lot to keep track of, just not what you were expecting.
I liked this movie. It’s funny and I had a good time with it. But in the end it seems more like a placeholder that’ll be buried by the masses rushing out to see 2012 and The Fantastic Mr. Fox next weekend. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, check this one out. I doubt that the theater will be packed. B