Friday, November 6, 2009

Review: 'The Men Who Stare at Goats' [C]

By Chase Kahn

Grant Heslov's The Men Who Stare at Goats, not unlike Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! in the way that it turns a real-life account into a farce, is a slight and off-kilter work in comparison. It's sporadically amusing, but desperately thin and tirelessly aimless -- lacking both the sure-handed specificity of Soderbergh's direction and the terrific, bulbous performance of Matt Damon.

I can recall on numerous occasions when George Clooney's terminally loopy Lyn Cassidy made me chuckle with his naive stupidity, or the look on Ewan McGregor's face trying to decipher if he's just taking him for a laugh, but I remember more vividly being completely beaten-down and sleepy-eyed by its repetitive, frivolous whirlwind of a narrative that's about as comfy as a shopping cart on a gravel hardtop.

The thing bounces back and forth from 1983 (the initiation of the New Earth Army -- or psychic soldiers -- by a hippied Jeff Bridges) to present day 2003 where bruised Ann Arbor reporter Bob Milton (Ewan McGregor) and Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney) are both in the midst of a "mission" deep into the sprawling deserts of Iraq. Some of the performances are relatively appealing, but none of the characters register a blip. Jeff Bridges' Bill Django is the most outrageously pinned-down and enticing, but like the rest of the film, it goes nowhere, reveals nothing, has nothing.

It also has an unfortunately ill-timed scene where a soldier, as a result of a psychic experiment performed by Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), nakedly wields a gun, firing into a crowd of soldier's barrack. Unfortunately, the film happened to be released the day after yesterday's Fort Hood shootings. Whoops. Still, the poor timing with recent events conveniently overshadows the fact that the scene isn't funny to begin with.

Clooney's Lyn Cassidy, a one-time prodigy amongst the initial New Earth recruits, describes himself as a "Jedi warrior" throughout the film, referring to his apparent ability to control people with his mind, fight without guns, and yes, stare at goats. It soon becomes painfully ironic, of course, that the only person not in on this whole "jedi" business is Obi-Wan Kenobi himself (Ewan McGregor). Like everything else, the jokes are as painfully obvious as the incessant Star Wars references. If The Informant! is the watermark of true-life farce, than The Men Who Stare at Goats is The Phantom Menace.

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