‘Goats’: All-star cast fails to animate flop

It’s not something I’m proud of, and if it weren’t for the unbearable weight of carrying my sins around, I wouldn’t be telling you this. But as I bear my soul, I hope you’ll reserve the judgment I no doubt deserve. So, OK – here it goes . . . I fell asleep during The Men Who Stare at Goats.

“But did you see the trailer?” You’re saying. “It looked so funny! And George Clooney was in it. He’s so hot.” I know, I know. This is all quite true. And on some level, it would be so much easier to blame myself for this transgression of the cinema. But that would just be another lie.

The Men Who Stare at Goats, based on a book by Jon Ronson, follows Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a struggling and recently divorced reporter, through Iraq as he searches to find a life-changing story. By chance, he encounters Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a “retired” U.S. Military psychic soldier who was formerly a member of the army’s attempts to employ New Age methods (i.e. peace, love, paranormal and psychic powers). And in addition to McGregor and Clooney, Goats boasts a pretty unbelievable cast between Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges.

On paper, this should have been gold: We’ve got Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Dude, Michael Clayton and Lester Burnham staring at goats and killing them with their minds. It’s set in Iraq with the backdrop of George Bush’s War on Terror – that’s still funny, right? I suppose so. But instead, I woke up disoriented and dry-mouthed in the back of Images Cinema wondering what had happened. I must have missed something important! I must have fallen asleep for the turning point – the scene(s) where everything comes together and starts to make sense! So what did I miss!?

And the answer is: nothing. It turns out I was only asleep for about a minute, only unsuccessfully hoping for the best when I woke up.

The Men Who Stare at Goats moves through a burlesque framework that begs for magical realism while allowing for a seemingly limitless supply of slapstick humor and political satire. And considering the talent being thrown around on screen, there have to be some likable characters, or at least performances, waiting to engage the audience. Something has to work somewhere, right? Wrong.

The film meekly opens on McGregor’s character, as timid as he is irredeemable, but though he narrates most of the story, we never become more than superficially acquainted with him through this half-hearted cinematic journey: his pain, his excitement, his self-consciousness – it’s presented at face-value as if we’re being taunted to take it or leave it. Unfortunately, as the film incompletely occupies the psychic and psychological realms of its characters, there is never a sense of urgency or narrative propulsion that typically characterizes what is commonly known as an “interesting movie.” Bridges, as a hippie-stoner pioneer of the army’s psychic methods, is solid, though unimpressive; Spacey, as Lyn Cassady’s psychic rival, feels strangely unnecessary and is, likewise, unimpressive.

Even though it’s a comedy, the film’s lack of character development doesn’t have any jokes or really entertaining content to fall back on, and the film seems hesitant to commit in any respect. The conflict within the story never seems organic, uncomfortably tingeing all interactions and dialogue between characters with an air of purposelessness.

So I’m sorry, George Clooney. I really am. I didn’t mean to fall asleep, and I can only hope that in your heart of hearts you forgive me. It’s not you – it’s really not – but it wasn’t me either.

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