“The Men Who Stare at Goats” is supposed to be a comedy, and it mostly fits that slot, but this is a film that could have been a great comedy, a classic comedy, but failed.
The premise alone should have made the film perfect: A journalist named Bob (from Ann Arbor, no less) travels to Iraq in search of a story, and hits the jackpot: The US Military formerly had a secret division known as the New Earth Army that trained its soldiers to fight with their minds instead of their guns. The journalist, played rather uninterestingly by Ewan McGregor, accompanies one of these psychic soldiers, an eccentric man named Lyn, on a top secret mission.
The soldier, played by George Clooney, is the best part of the film. He delivers the most ludicrous lines with a perfectly straight face. His most endearing quality is his unshakeable faith in his psychic abilities, which are actually demonstrated multiple times with great effect. He is the source of most of the humor in the film. It’s a shame that McGregor’s role is more that of a punching bag, designed to absorb any silliness or actual violence that Clooney may throw at him.
The only person you could say is the antagonist in this movie is Kevin Spacey. He plays a fellow psychic soldier named Larry who trained alongside Lyn in the New Earth Army. Larry is a latecomer to the troop, and he and Lyn develop a rivalry instantly. Both men start out with immense respect for their leader, a man named Bill. However, Larry soon becomes extremely jealous of Lyn’s obvious psychic talent.
Bill is played by Jeff Bridges, who is looking just like The Dude again. He is a kind, caring man who loves his men like they were his children. He is the man who develops Lyn’s psychic talent, but it becomes increasingly clear that he does not really believe his own words.
The real problem with the film is that the final act lasts about two minutes. By the time we are prepped and ready for the big finale, the film is over.The antagonist is mostly uninteresting and unthreatening, and we never really know what the point of all this was. There is some sort of obscure point made about torture, but it’s just not deep enough to be carelessly appended to the end of a comedy. In the aftermath, Bob tells Lyn that he will tell the world “what happened here.” Nothing really happened, though.