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    The Men Who Stare at Goats

    Yoda man

    "The Men Who Stare at Goats" is a less-than-thrilling thriller that gets lost in a bizarre muddle of "Star Wars" references.


    If George Lucas hasn't seen "The Men Who Stare at Goats," he should definitely go, with his pack of lawyers in tow, and see if there is a case for copyright infringement.

    Directed by: Grant Heslov.
    Written by: Peter Straughan.
    Adapted from the book by: Jon Ronson.
    Cast: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Lang, Robert Patrick.
    Cinematography: Robert Elswit.
    Edited by: Tatiana S. Riegel.

    Related links: Official site
    The movie, about an army of New Age-y soldiers bankrolled by the U.S. government to develop methods of combat using only their minds, is so chock full of "Star Wars" references and lingo that it plays like a ridiculous comedy of errors leaving you to say to yourself "�" hello, aren't we over this "Star Wars" stuff yet? The entire experiment is even called "Project Jedi" "�" can you believe that?

    The title alludes to one of the so-called psychic techniques in which soldiers would stare at goats "�" and take them down, literally, with their minds. It definitely gives new meaning to the phrase "if looks could kill." The mind matters, I suppose.

    "Goats" wants to make a psychic connection with the audience, but the movie fails to really get inside anyone's head. It tries very hard, though, at being a quirky fact-is-stranger-than-fiction tale "�" the film is purportedly based on a real-life U.S. endeavor that began in the 1960s and stretched into the 1980s.

    The Men Who Stare at Goats  
    And it does have its very likable moments. When a soldier is asked how to find a missing person, he responds: "Ask Angela Lansbury!" "�" a veiled reference to the detective lady's other role as a brainwashing Russian spy in the original "The Manchurian Candidate." Very funny.

    And George Clooney is perfect when his kooky character declares in a deadpan kind of way: "Yes, I am a Jedi warrior." It's simply hilarious.

    But the stroke of genius comes from casting Ewan McGregor, the actor who played Obi wan Kenobi in the first "Star Wars" trilogy, as the journalist who uncovers this secretive group in "Goats." It's like the "Jedi" asking the soldiers how they have learned to become a Jedi. The entire audience is quite aware of this dynamic, and it still works. Brilliant.

      The Men Who Stare at Goats
    But such lightheartedness gives way to downright silliness. Clooney's Jedi warrior tells McGregor's journalist that he is dying because of a "death tap" inflicted by a rival on his head years ago. We are supposed to laugh, but it's just plain stupid.

    Also, when Clooney calls the torture of U.S. prisoners "the dark side," we are supposed to be awed by the boldness of his words, but it comes off as a not-so-clever political statement. Wow, we get it.

    And the eventual throwback to all things hippie — i.e., the New Age chanting, the communal baths, the long hair, bad hygiene and LSD-laced eggs "�" reinforces the criticism that it was indeed a generation of self-indulgence. There is even a Timothy Leary reference. Who cares?

    The Men Who Stare at Goats  
    In "Goats," there is so much "Star Wars" thievery that one wonders where is Kevin Smith when you need him. In his own movies like "Clerks," Smith borrowed liberally from Lucas, but he made those references entertaining and endearing. Here, it's just robbery.

    With all this going on, it's surprising that the actors in "Goats" didn't say their lines in Yoda-speak.

    Good this movie not. Quirkiness does not a great movie make. The original "Star Wars" movies you should see.

    There, I said it.

    NOVEMBER 6, 2009

    Reader comments on The Men Who Stare at Goats:

  • Pathetic   from victor, Nov 26, 2009

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