"The Men Who Stare at Goats" Throwback Review
Jedi super soldiers that can kill goats with their minds. That’s the real-life premise this film bases itself off of. “It’s a far-fetched concept for a feature film, but it might just be crazy enough to work,” the writer and producer probably said as they were making this film. Unfortunately for them, and us, it doesn’t. What should be a funny premise turns out to be shallow and void of any humor. Just like the real-life program the film showcases, the idea was just too crazy and the execution was too stupid to justify its own existence.
The film starts out introducing us to Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a journalist stuck in Ann Arbor doing pointless stories. One day he interviews a man who served in the New Earth Academy and share his story as a psychic soldier. A soldier that can spy using telepathy, see into the future, and kill anybody just with sight.
Being fed up with dealing with lowlifes, Bob ventures to Iraq to cover the war (setting is 2002), but comes up short as he isn’t allowed to go into the war zones. While waiting to get his big break, he meets a man named Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), who was the best New Earth Academy trainee in history. Because of the coincidence that he meets another academy member, Bob gets the story behind the academy’s leader, Bill Django (Jeff Bridges). Django was a Vietnam veteran that didn’t agree with violence, so he persuaded The Pentagon to fund a new project that would create “Jedi” soldiers that could nonviolently incapacitate an evil regime. From this point on we cut between Bob and Lyn’s time in Iraq to Django and Lyn starting the New Earth Academy in the 70s.
From the sound of that premise, I would expect this film to embrace its goofiness and unbelievability and use it to create lots of laughs. Well, I was wrong. What should be and was marketed as a comedic film turns out to be a straight lined story that doesn’t really feel like anything. It’s not funny, it’s not dramatic, and it’s surprisingly not interesting. It just feels like the hallowed remains of what could have been.
Another mistake the film repeatedly makes is that it tries to be something it's not. It unnecessarily tries to tackle many different themes such as friendship, acceptance and living with the past. You would think that touching on those themes would lift this film above the usual lower comedies, but alas you would be wrong again. None of the themes mesh together and make the film feel very disjointed about what messages it is trying to send.
What I wanted and expected from this film was crazy antics from great actors, but what I’m given is a failed story that spends way too much time being hokey and sentimental instead of actually being funny.
The main actors in this film can be put in two categories: Saving graces or disappointing baggage.
Ewan McGregor takes the top spot on the disappointing baggage team. I still haven’t figured out if McGregor is a good actor, mostly because his quality vastly changes from film to film. I love the guy, but he’s never really consistent. He was excellent in the Trainspotting and Star Wars films, but terrible in Our Kind of Traitor and Mortdecai. I know those bad films came after this one, so you could claim that this film was the beginning of a slump.
George Clooney is the biggest saving grace. He has fun with his material and delivers a performance that is off-kilter comedic.
Jeff Bridges is also a saving grace as he channels his “Dude” behavior from The Big Lebowski. He’s obviously having fun with the role and just kind of goes through each scene carefree.
Kevin Spacey balances out the teams and joins McGregor as disappointing baggage. Spacey plays Larry Hooper, an academy member who disagreed with Django’s methods and who was jealous of Lyn’s natural talent. Spacey tries to play as the abandoned son, but he just doesn’t seem interested enough in his role.
The Men Who Stare at Goats is a film that takes itself way too seriously and doesn’t know what to do. It wants to be a thoughtful comedy with lasting merits. The only thing is, nobody else wanted that. People wanted a goofy comedy with a few good laughs. The film tries too hard where it shouldn’t and doesn’t try enough where it should, which is why it ends up being boring and forgettable.