Bottom Line:The Men Who Stare at Goats lacks an identity. Comedy? Tragedy? Who’s to guess? Critical of New Age culture or military culture? There’s no way to know, but it’s kind of funny sometimes.
If you saw the trailer for The Men Who Stare at Goats, you are probably expecting a comedy filled with one-liners and slapstick courtesy of a blundering Jeff Bridges and a spacey George Clooney. But that is not what you’re going to get.
Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is a down-and-out journalist for a regional newspaper with an urge to prove himself. In the middle of the war in Iraq, he ventures over to Kuwait to become the intrepid reporter he always wanted to be. Here he encounters Lyn Cassidy (Clooney), the best student in the US Military’s psychic-soldier program — The New World Army. Together they brave their way into Iraq to complete Lyn’s secret mission. What unfolds is a tale of conflicting ideologies in a world that continues to outgrow the paranormal.
Goat’s storyline, narrated by Bob, bounces between Middle East adventure and choppy retrospective, and it normally remains in the realm that exists between sad and flat. All those scenes that you expect from the trailer end up scattering throughout the flick like awkward throw-ins from a bad Barry Sonnenfeld movie — heavily situational and lacking originality.
This is not to say that Goats is without charm. The appearance of TV favorites Robert Patrick (X-Files), Glenn Morshower (24) and Rebecca Mader (Lost), in roles that highlight their typecast-ability, rewards the sort of paranormal/action/adventure addicts that are likely to attend Goats.
The decision to cast McGregor in a role in which he plays a Padawan learner to Clooney’s Jedi Master is also not without fantastic irony. For the unfamiliar, this relationship mirrors the bond between apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) and Jedi Qui-Gon Jin (Liam Neeson) in Star Wars Episode I. In a movie that deals so heavily with Star Wars mythology, with some scenes loosely parodying others from The Phantom Menace, die-hard George Lucas fans can walk out of Goats with a new appreciation for the made-up religion they love.
But for others, Goats is going to disappoint. Plot-driven and focused on developing a Coen Brothers-esque absurdity that never truly comes to fruition, the movie produces characters that all can be described in single words — spacey, pathetic, flowery, angry — respectively. This is not the fault of a cast of talented stars (and McGregor), but rather the fault of a script that doesn’t give them ample opportunity to do what they do best.
Will you laugh at times? Yes. But for a movie that deals with serious contemporary issues — a bloated military and a miffed invasion — as this one does, it does little work providing commentary on the topics it is immersed in — which would have been fine if it had been more funny. But Goats winds up feeling contrived, ending (rather abruptly) with its protagonist achieving new heights the movie doesn’t quite prove he earns. Similarily, Goats doesn’t quite earn the hype it’s received.
Suggested viewing strategy: Wait to see this until Thanksgiving, take your whole family, and see which uncles are most similar to the characters portrayed in the film. In so doing, you may provide a depth of characterization to these poor actors who are starved by this movie’s scant plot.
OR: Drinking Game: Take a shot every time you feel sad about how old Jeff Bridges is. This drinking game can also be played when you are not watching Goats.