The Men Who Stare at Goats
How to Make the Best Trailer for the Worst Movie
Starring: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor
By Robert Patrick
The Men Who Stare at Goats is a zany, wonky, effortlessly bizarre film that rides the coattails of some very weird – and allegedly factual – information about the United States Army and its experimental exploits into alternative fighting. Much of the movie is plump with colorful anecdotes, off the wall action, and humorous zingers. The movie follows the disparaged Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a journalist whose primary goal isn’t so much to cover the war in Iraq as to impress his ex-beau that he is in danger while traversing the countryside in Kuwait. While meandering around poolside hotels, dressed in foppish attire, Wilton meets a stranger that provides him with a blockbuster story: the US Army had created a battalion whose primary goal was to defeat their enemies with Jedi mind tricks. The stranger in question, Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), was once a part of this superhuman unit. Some of the tactics in the aforementioned group were created by peace guru and meditative councilor Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) , a Vietnam era veteran who decided that flowers and doves were more powerful than hand grenades and claymores. The Cassady character believes that if he bulges his eyes out, anchors his eyebrows down, and does spiritual wrestling moves on his enemies that they will surrender and/or parish. Wilton’s character, on the other hand, is so entirely jaded and desperate that he believes Cassady’s wild tales by default. The duo eventually bumble around Kuwait, on a top secret mission from a mystery entity, until they land into the lap of trouble.
The entire movie centers around Cassady’s recollection of the Earth Battalion’s unorthodox hi-jinx, which include physic training and week long drug binges. And while some of these sequences provide hilarious glimpses into a strange world that coddled such precarious activities, the wacky slapstick wears thin after an hour or so of watching scenes where soldiers lift bags of sand with their penis and listen to Boston on full blast. Jeff Bridges is a shoe-in for his role, as he bounces around with a half-cocked smirk and a breathy laugh. The man is clearly having fun channeling his “Dude” caricature, as he has reprised it several times since the ubiquitously liked “The Big Lebowski” was released. Clooney’s performance, wrapped up with elaborate facial twitches and bombastic, animated gestures, is totally unhinged in his portrayal of the prodigious special forces operative, Cassady. Even Kevin Spacey, in another antagonist role, is hilarious as the gregarious Larry Hooper, an often spiteful apprentice to the Earth Battalion and its philosophies.
The only actor who does a swan dive into mediocrity is Ewan McGregor. The Scottish actor does a flimsy job of providing a consistent American accent, and even seems to be overacting in most of the film. I’m not sure how, but McGregor reeks of plasticity in most of his screen time.
And though The Men Who Stare at Goats purports to have a larger and more intricate plotline, the movie actually exists solely to tell slapstick jokes and giggle-heavy flashbacks of its characters partaking in eye rolling activities. Because of this, the film seems to be loosely bound not by forward movement but by hackneyed Saturday Night Live skits that last for the duration of the movie. I’m not even sure if The Men Who Stare at Goats has a screenplay, because it has no real ending. The entire endeavor behaves like an adolescent game where, for the sake of the rules, one player says one word, another player adds onto the line with another word, then the game continues to rotate until one incoherent, half-way funny sentence is formed.
The trailers, boasting a loud soundtrack and some trigger happy visuals, provide most of the fun that the movie has to offer. The actual production, however, lacks the same kind of kinetic energy and fluent pacing. Even with a chuckle here and there, The Men Who Stare at Goats is such an uneven, self-serving affair that the audience has no reason to care beyond the first fifteen minutes. Why watch a movie that behaves like a sedated Coen Brothers picture without the bite and black humor?