Who’s In It: George Clooney, George Clooney’s mustache, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Robert Patrick
The Basics: George Clooney cohort Grant Heslov makes his directorial debut with this military comedy about a journalist named Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) who stumbles upon a career-making story: years ago, the U.S. government set up a secret division specializing in parapsychology, the remaining members of which are jaded operative Lyn Cassady (Clooney), his mentor Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), and his old rival Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), who now operates a research camp in Iraq honing the lethal aspects of his paranormal powers. As Bob learns more about the legacy of the division, which trained its agents to use psychic powers -- including stopping a goat’s heart with a look, hence the title -- he begins to believe in Lyn’s way of life.
What’s The Deal: The Men Who Stare at Goats strikes an odd tone; farcical but straight-faced, fantastical but set in the real world – a strange mix when you’re presenting a “true story” about an obscure piece of military history. The tongue-in-cheek style doesn’t always work, but it is amusing to see this cast letting loose and having fun, Bridges and Spacey in particular. Fun fact: the film is based loosely on the real life First Earth Battalion, a group dedicated to a non-lethal military philosophy that advocated defeating one’s enemies using positive vibrations, meditation, and telepathy – hippie warfare! Who’d have thought such a cause would have slipped into oblivion?
The Kooky George Rule: George Clooney and his mustache are beginning to be a red flag combination. Whenever they co-star in a comedy, we know we’re going to get Kooky George. And Kooky George is hit or miss. You know what I mean. Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? Good mustache. Burn After Reading? Bad mustache. Sometimes Kooky George works, but increasingly, he does not. He is silly, usually obliviously so, and a fool. He bugs out, because he’s eccentric. In The Men Who Stare at Goats, Clooney’s character is defined by a moment in which he believes he’s used his psychic powers for evil, and he refers to himself multiple times as a Jedi warrior. This is way too much quirk for Clooney to handle. I blame the mustache.
Expect To Be Bombarded With Star Wars References Like That One: When Lyn gets a vision of Obi-Wan – I mean, Bill – he takes his young Paduwan Bob deep into the Middle East on a journey to reclaim the teachings of Bill’s New Earth Army. The parapsychologists frequently talk about Jedi and dark sides; these references are not subtle. Throw in a couple of sly jokes about Ewan McGregor’s ignorance of the Jedi way, and The Men Who Stare At Goats strangely becomes a piece of Star Wars fan fiction in itself.