Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Men Who Stare at Goats

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Reporter Uncovers Top Secret Psychic Unit in Conspiracy Theory Comedy

If you listen to the radio in the middle of the night, perhaps you’ve tuned in to Coast-to-Coast AM, that nationally-syndicated, radio talk show which gives credence to guests with wild theories about all sorts of paranormal activities. Well, if you’re entertained by patently preposterous discussions of ESP and mental telepathy, then The Men Who Stare at Goats is likely to be right up your alley.
The movie is based on the best seller of the same name by Jon Ronson, a British journalist claiming to have uncovered a top secret U.S. Army unit comprised of psychics capable of walking through walls and killing animals simply by staring at them, hence the self-explanatory title. The film version, directed by Grant Heslov, has been adapted to the screen by scriptwriter Peter Straughan as more of a comedy than a piece of investigative journalism.
The picture features a stellar cast, starting with Ewan McGregor as Bob Wilton, a depressed reporter desperate to find the meaning of life after being unceremoniously left by his wife (Rebecca Mader) for his boss (Todd La Tourrette). Then, while covering the war over in the Middle East, Bob stumbles upon a big scoop, when he encounters Lyn Cassady (George Clooney).
For Cassady reveals via both demonstrations and a series of vivid flashbacks that he is a member of the New Earth Army, a motley crew of metaphysical monks first founded by Vietnam vet Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) as a force for peace, not war. Over the course of the ensuing improbably adventure, Lyn explains the powers they have attempted to harness, such as communicating telepathically with submarines, seeing into the future, optimal trajectory, phasing, cloud bursting and psychic projection. Bob remains impressed, despite the fact that Lyn meets with varying degrees of success, proving better at predicting the flip of a coin, than at subduing the enemy with his mind after they’re kidnapped by terrorists.
The Men Who Stare at Goats is a one-trick pony, or should I say one-trick goat, which relies heavily on a slight variation of a running theme which gets stale pretty fast. What we have here is basically a bunch of delusional wackos being indulged by the U.S. government on the remote chance that they might actually be onto something. But how many times can you expect an audience to laugh at different versions of the same joke, whether the wannabe psychics are trying to bend a spoon, walk through a wall, drive blindfolded or elsewhat?
A flawed flick strictly for the paranoid conspiracy theory crowd.

Fair (1 star)
Rated R for profanity, drug use and brief nudity.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Overture Films

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