Andy Bockelman: ‘Men Who Stare’ mostly a goat chase
November 14, 2009
The Men Who Stare at Goats’
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars
Running time: 93 minutes
Starring: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey
"The Men Who Stare at Goats" shows just what you can do with enough concentration and determination.
But, the act of simply not blinking while listening to continuous refrains of Boston's "More Than a Feeling" doesn't seem to be enough, at least for the audience.
American journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is in need of a good story in 2003. So, going where the action is, he heads to Kuwait in the hopes of becoming an Iraq correspondent.
He finds a much more offbeat story when he meets Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), who has an odd tale to tell: He's a Jedi warrior.
Lyn relates to the astounded reporter that during the 1980s, he was part of a U.S. Army movement to train soldiers in the parapsychological sciences, among them invisibility, matter manipulation and psychokinesis.
Founded by visionary military man Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), the New Earth Army's New Age techniques had provided a sense of meaning to Lyn, who has since abandoned the unit.
But, as Wilton tags along with Lyn across the desert, he learns the ex-soldier has a sad history with the Army and a mission that may be crucial to the future of the world.
Or it may just be a bunch of malarkey.
Clooney's charisma almost works to a disadvantage in playing loner Lyn. It's difficult to take him seriously as a physical force — though he can be quite imposing — when you see him swaying carelessly with the rest of his platoon to the music of Billy Idol, though it is nicely uninhibited.
It's a blend of comic and action sensibilities that just doesn't work.
As someone who's actually played a Jedi, McGregor makes more sense as sardonic narrator Wilton, trying to piece his life back together after a nasty divorce. And what better way to get your wits about you than traipsing across the Middle East?
Bridges is good fun as Django, a Vietnam veteran who has a revelation after being shot in action leading to the Army's foray into territory such as yogic exercises and psychic experiments. As much a part of the Dark Side as ever, Kevin Spacey is a worthy adversary for Lyn as Larry Hooper, who sees fit to misuse the potential energy by the members of the New Earth Army.
Taking its title from the exposé book by Jon Ronson, the movie is a sometimes satisfying look into the politics of the American military, both on the earthly and astral planes.
The tone ricochets from being doggedly humorous to being a serious commentary on military protocol. As for the former, it's mildly humorous at times, but the latter is where it really falters.
There's just no real volition behind its displays of bloodthirsty American security firms, the treatment of prisoners of war or the ethics of animal experimentation. You'd think there might be some room for commentary with the story taking place from Wilton's point of view, but it just isn't so.
Additionally, following the recent Fort Hood tragedy, a scene involving a soldier's violent freak-out after a bad drug trip just doesn't bode well for the rest of the movie's theatrical run.
"The Men Who Stare at Goats" does offer some fine moments, but without much motivation behind them, it isn't at the transcendent level of quality it should be.
As it is, it's just something to stare at.