On paper, The Men Who Stare At Goats is a wonderful film concept, with potential in the mystification and bemusement departments on offer. So what has gone wrong with director Grant Heslov’s adaptation of Jon Ronson’s 2004 book of the same name? It’s hard to put your finger on it because what you are looking at should be operating in a higher gear – Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey in a story about US Military attempts to harness remote viewing and psychic abilities.
But the finished product disappoints on a few levels. Firstly, there is something amiss in the chemistry between Clooney and McGregor. Clooney, here playing re-activated -psychic spy’ Lyn Cassady, has a functioning funny bone but only when matched with a pithy or absurdist script such as the kind the Coens kindly provided him for years. McGregor, the journalist and Cassady’s reluctant sidekick Bob Wilton, spends the film looking surprised or confused, and approaches hammy with that yank accent. The two infiltrate Iraq and get into all sorts of trouble on a mission of uncertainty, but such is this lack of spark between these leads there is none of the symbiosis or reactivity that every buddy film needs. Spacey is marginally better as the unit’s dastardly killjoy, although he continues to embrace the law of diminishing returns. Bridges stops the whole thing from collapsing altogether with a refined, at-times Dude-esque, turn as Cassady’s mentor and the unit’s Ã¼ber-hippy leader. In one chucklesome scene, we see his post-Nam spiritual journey in a series of daisy-laden flashbacks.
Oh yeah, the other major problems holding this back are a) the humour, which is slapstick at best, and obvious and sub-Simpsons at worst, and b) well, the yarn itself. It leaves nothing to go home with. The psychic element is pooh-poohed by the aforementioned slapstick-ery, and not given any chance to sow any seeds of mystery or wonder in the viewer. The redemption and resolutions are entirely unsatisfactory, and by the end of it all you may feel you deserve more for lasting that long.