Tuesday, November 24, 2009

508 - The Men Who Stare at Goats review

At the beginning of “The Men Who Stare At Goats,” we’re informed that the movie is based on a true story, “more true than you would think.” Indeed, some of this film’s facts check out; there is an organization called the United States Army, and there was a war in Iraq that began in 2003. There was even a movie called “Star Wars,” but I remain decidedly skeptical about everything else.

With “The Men Who Stare At Goats,” director Grant Heslov and producer/star George Clooney manage the perversely amazing task of making Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, and Clooney himself seem utterly boring. The actors portray a group of psychic US Army soldiers, an assortment of characters written to be Wacky and Weird but not Human or Interesting. One must wonder how a director can have access to Bridges, The Dude himself, and not find a moment with which to use his laidback charm effectively. Spacey, easier to waste, is firmly embedded in “I want my check” mode, though here he’s hardly even used for his regularly effective stock purpose.

Ewan McGregor functions as a pseudo-protagonist Bob Wilton, a cuckolded husband and journalist who heads to the Middle East at the onset of the Iraq War in order to impress his wife. There he has a chance encounter with Lyn Cassady (Clooney), a “psychic” he recognizes by chance. Turns out Cassady was a member of a secret Army unit full of so-called psychics, a group headed by Lt. Col. Django (Jeff Bridges), a hippy who preaches military strength through nonviolence, which I’ll assert isn’t much in the face of a strategic bomber, but never mind. Though the soldiers are supposedly psychic, their practical military application seems extremely limited here, unless the military is in desperate need of a mentalist.

Wilton and Cassady begin a journey through newly liberated Iraq, allowing for the filmmakers to take “edgy” jabs at American security contractors and the war itself. Its conclusion might appeal to those who take pleasure in any drug joke, no matter how stupid, but the film’s indifferent and aggressively disrespectful attitude towards the armed forces and decent moviemaking should make it a tough pill to swallow.

Heslov’s direction is aggressively unremarkable and too self-satisfied to consider edginess or humor that dares to rise above the level of writing room ribbing. The psychic soldiers continually label themselves “Jedis,” making an achingly unfunny parody out of McGregor’s casting (he played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the “Star Wars” prequels. Har har.).

The film’s most memorable note will likely be a sequence where a trainee goes insane and begins firing a pistol into a crowd of soldiers at a military base. It’s bad timing and hardly the film’s fault that something similar to this should actually occur (and on a much more insidious note) in real life, but that recent event highlights this film’s fecklessness, its impotent and brain-dead treatment of its own subject matter and ill-made attempt at humor. I can’t help but suggest that no time is truly appropriate for a movie as dreadful as this one.

1 out of 5

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