'Men Who Stare at Goats' will keep you staring


Film Review: Ensemble cat brings livestock laughs without that funky smell

Ever wish you could, in the words of Jack Black, “kill a yak from 200 yards away, with mind bullets”?

While a yak might be a tall order, the characters in “The Men Who Stare at Goats” have perfected the art of anti-goat telekinesis.

The movie is a fictional adaptation of Jon Ronson’s 2004 non-fiction book of the same name.

The flick opens with a disclaimer that “more of this is true than you believe.”

Ewan McGregor plays reporter Bob Wilton, who goes to Kuwait hoping to get into Iraq, write a piece about the war and impress his recently estranged wife. He instead meets up with Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney), a deactivated “Jedi Knight” trained by the U.S. Army to use his mind as a weapon.

Cassidy is the prodigious student of Lt. Col. Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), a hippy-dippy serviceman who pioneers the “First Earth Battalion.” Django is based on a real lieutenant colonel who wanted to train soldiers as warrior-monks who greet enemies with “symbolic animals of peace,” “sparkly eyes” and “an automatic hug.”

Wilton and Cassidy make it into Iraq and are immediately kidnapped. The movie focuses on their escape and search for Django, who Cassidy says came to him in a vision.

The narrative is interspersed with hilarious flashbacks to Cassidy’s training under Django and the formation of a rivalry between him and fellow psychic spy Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey).

Clooney channels the picaresque style he has developed for Cohen Brothers films like “O,” “Brother Where Art Thou” andBurn After Reading,” but his effort exists by no means as a mere re-hashing.

McGregor does a good job narrating, but it seemed like his part in the action was a little under-written. Still, McGregor’s previous role as Obi-Wan in “Star Wars” lent a loveable layer of irony to Wilton’s constant incredulity regarding the “Jedi Knights” in ‘Goats.’

Spacey performed strong. Hooper, his character, has a chuckle-inducing lope every time he runs, and at one LSD-laden point, Spacey goes from suicidal to the serene realization that he’s really hungry in a few tense-but-funny moments.

Bridges really steals the show, though. It’s tempting to compare his role to the one he played in “The Big Lebowski,” but other than a love of drugs, the two characters have little in common. Bridges doesn’t even have the funniest lines, he just does such a killer acting job.

Bridges plays the self-assured flower child Django of the ’80s and the elderly, metaphorically castrated Django of the modern-era Iraq War. The makeup was great, but Bridges’ facial expression and the way he carried himself did far more to convey Django’s age. He let one of his eyes laze and kept his jaw open a bit to make his face look longer and gaunter when trying to appear older.

Aside from some witty banter and the premise’s intrinsic hilarity, the movie comments on how far the U.S. military will go to be on the avant-garde.

At one point, two officers are discussing Django’s Psy-Ops program, and one seems surprised that such an outlandish program exists while the other explains that the Russians created such a program after hearing (falsely) that America already had one. He said that, once the Russians started researching psychic powers, the U.S. had to — casually remarking, “We can’t afford to have the Russians lead the field in psychic research.”

While ‘Goats’ was entertaining, it doesn’t seem to have the nuances necessary for rewarding repeat viewings. That, however, is up to you. This movie proves at least certainly worth the time and money for an initial viewing.