The Men Who Stare At Goats Dir. Grant Heslov

[Overture; 2009]

George Clooney is the only reason The Men Who Stare At Goats got made and the only reason to see it. Everyone's favorite self-righteous superhunk plays Lyn Cassady, a "warrior monk" trained by a secret military unit devoted to the possibilities of psychic peace-keeping. While his character is only slightly more developed than anyone or anything else in this remarkably underwhelming war comedy, Clooney survives the film, charisma intact; his mugging under hippie wigs and Chaplin mustaches may be all you'll even remember.

Case in point: Most reviews never mention he isn't the lead. That honor goes to Ewan McGregor, as a hapless reporter who meets Cassady after leaving his wife (who hooked up with his disabled editor -- quirky!) to seek glory as a correspondent in Iraq. He's intended to be the audience surrogate, emboldened and inspired as he (and we) learn the tale of Clooney's New Earth Army. But McGregor can't master an American accent, let alone establish an emotional presence. Perhpas he was cast to make the film's frequent Jedi references more ironic, but his wide-eyed narration could have been delivered with equal aplomb by Jimmy Fallon.

Not that McGregor has any help from director Grant Heslov, who'd still be taking coroner roles on CSI if his megastar buddy-from-acting-class hadn't chosen him for a production partner after burning out on Steven Soderbergh. Directing with a budget for the first time, Heslov doesn't just fail to find a tone for the film -- he may not have been looking. We have no idea how to respond when shown torture victims in passing after an hour of clowning in the desert. Heslov has no taste for bravura, treating all potential set pieces like mere plot points, whether it's Clooney learning to dance or a journey to the center of a character's mind. The film's finale, in which terrorists and goats are released into the desert after American soldiers are drugged with LSD, is facile enough to kill any actual message... but most directors would have at least mic'd the spectacle of Kevin Spacey tripping his balls off.

Spacey and Jeff Bridges are game as the yin and yang of psychic warfare, but even K-Pax gave them more room to show off than Heslov's cursory flashback sequences, and their respective cynic and aging hippie roles are even more familiar at this point than Clooney's goofball action hero. Goats doesn't have much to say, but a director with some flair could have had a lot more fun saying it.

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