2009 | Director: Grant Hezlov | Writers: Jon Ronson (book) and Peter Straughan (screenplay, “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People”)
“The Men Who Stare at Goats” is one of those comedies that, despite having its funny moments, goes for long humorless stretches without batting an eye, as if the filmmakers mistook odd, quirky characterizations for Coens-esque deadpan. It’s a hit-or-miss approach weighted too heavily toward the latter part of the equation, unfortunately.
Based on Gonzo journalist Jon Ronson’s nonfiction tome, “Goats” follows Ewan McGregor (“Star Wars Episodes I-III”) as Ronson stand-in Bob Wilton, who, after being dumped by his wife, wastes away in Kuwait looking for an Iraq War story with which to prove himself–that is, until he bumps into former Special Forces operative and all-around nut job Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney, “The Peacekeeper”), who agrees to take Wilton along on his secret mission.
That mission’s purpose remains cloudy to Wilton, but along the way he learns of Cassidy’s Army past, which recounts the history of the New Age-centered New Earth Army headed by Bill Django (Jeff Daniels, playing out of character as a shaggy, laid-back hippie), and Cassidy’s antagonistic relationship with fellow “American Jedi” Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey, “K-Pax”), a man prone to embracing the holistic unit’s Dark Side.
Actor-director Grant Hezlov has a good eye for Clooney’s wacky portrayal, but he doesn’t seem to know how to handle the heavier stuff. As a result, the real-world punch line at the end of the film is treated with kid gloves. Or maybe it’s just that the constant, goofy Looney Tunes-like music over every scene made me take it the wrong way.
The choice to have McGregor narrate every waking moment, however, may have been the worst Hezlov and company made; the Scot, an ex-Jedi himself, is the least funny cast member in “Goats,” and the most pervasive (while the usually stiff Spacey, in comparison, turns out to be something of a comic revelation in little screen time). In a way, that miscasting represents the film as a whole–some of the right parts built around the wrong idea to begin with. It’s a shame that Ronson’s real-life story was brushed aside so easily; it has to be just as disappointing to him that the true story is just as buried here, and beneath such a hodgepodge of ill-fitting comedic styles.
Rating: Two of Five Stars