Review by Nathan Samdahl (B-)
From Grant Heslov, Arnold Schwarzenegger's awesome sidekick in True Lies and yes, also George Clooney's producing and writing collaborator (on such films as Leatherheads and Good Night and Good Luck) comes The Men Who Stare At Goats, which stars none other than Clooney as the psychic soldier Lynn Cassady.
I will start by saying that this is a film that could be made few others than the famed Clooney/Heslov pairing (most would be hard pressed to get this production off the ground). The film is about an obscure unit of the military that trains soldiers to use paranormal or psychic powers against the enemy (one of the primary tests is knocking out a goat just by staring at it). However, the actual skill of most of these soldiers is questionable as no one really seems to be able to employ their true psychic skills to do much at all. Ewan McGregor, as reporter Bob Wilton, follows Lyn Cassady around the Middle East in search of and in hope of a great story. At the end of the film, Lyn tells Bob to go back and write about what they did. Sounds great, except that no one really did anything.
Certainly while this tongue-in-cheek Burn After Reading-esque story does not beg to be taken too seriously, I was still left wanting a lot more from the story (much as I felt with Burn After Reading). For the first 20 minutes of this film, I laughed pretty frequently, but then gradually over the rest of its runtime the humor seemed to be replaced with an odd Coen Brothers-like drama-comedy combo. Nothing was so dramatic that I felt truly engaged by the character's emotions nor was anything really comedic enough to make me laugh. The last two-thirds of the film seemed to linger in a bit of a grey zone.
This is not to say that there were not a few great moments along the way (such as George Clooney's hilarious use of an ineffective solar cooker in the desert), but after about an hour I felt a bit bummed that there wasn't more to laugh at given the outlandish (yet supposedly partially true) concept. The Men Who Stare at Goats is similar to The Informant as the trailers for both hold all the film's laughs, with many of them losing their comedic impact when placed in the context of the film. The Men Who Stare at Goats is perhaps too smart of a film and as a result it loses a bulk of its audience by not pigeonholing itself into one specific genre.
I would still recommend this film as the concept and its execution are somewhat unique. However, for sheer entertainment value there are better films out there and sadly better performances to be seen. Despite its incredible cast (Clooney, McGregor, Bridges and Spacey), no one delivers their best here. While a valiant effort, The Men Who Stare at Goats falls a bit short of its full potential.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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