Move Over Dr. Strangelove, It's Men Who Stare at Goats

Goats delivers some gut-busting sequences, and first-time helmer Grant Heslov shows the comic timing of a big screen pro. The laughs arrive without warning, but they start to thin as the movie trudges on to its wan conclusion.

The film as a whole feels like a lost opportunity, from the starry cast to the juicy premise.

Goats gets plenty of mileage out of the notion that the psychic warriors called themselves Jedi warriors, especially given the choice to cast the erstwhile Obi-Wan Kenobi, McGregor, in the lead.

McGregor and Clooney make an agreeable team, their disparate comic sensibilities blending nicely with the material in play. But McGregor’s character remains a cipher of a shell of a shadow. We’re given his personal statistics, but the actor can’t fill in any other blanks. And the duo’s trek across the Middle East becomes tiresome; it’s hard not to wonder midway through where all of this is going.

Kevin Spacey’s appearance as a Jedi warrior gone sour adds to the Oscar winning actor’s recent run of weak performances.

Even dyed-in-the-wool conservatives might wish Goats took a harder political stance, or any position that gave this rudderless enterprise some focus. Goats goes so far as to include a news snippet of President George W. Bush without turning the moment into a cheap laugh.

That’s more amazing than trying to psychically off a goat.

We do get a late anti-torture lecture, a quick reference to the dark side which is handled clumsily, and an astoundingly immoral moment where our so-called heroes take enormous pity on some prisoners. The film also includes a fire fight between two security squads, sort of like Blackwater vs. Blackwater, played for chuckles, of course.

The best bits in The Men Who Stare at Goats are the silliest. Hearty soldiers run straight into walls thinking their psychic powers will let them glide right through the dense material. A psychic true believer trying to stop the heart of a hamster to impress a reporter.

But the film loads up on such moments, either unwilling or unable to use them as a jumping off point for more pointed commentary or richer character development.

War is hell, and a movie mocking the military via extrasensory maneuvers is a fine way to score some quick anti-war points.

The Men Who Stare at Goats starts with that bright premise but lacks a battle plan for blending laughter with smart social satire.