The Men Who Stare at Goats | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Men Who Stare at Goats

Comedy about the bizarre techniques of a secret military unit

Did the U.S. Army really have a secret division devoted to alternative warfare rooted in mind-control, telekinesis and other forms of harnessed paranormal activity? (Why not -- especially if the Soviets might have been doing it, too.)

Adapted from Jon Ronson's book, Grant Heslov's nonlinear film is a Cold War comedy somewhat awkwardly shoehorned into the current Iraq conflict. In it, a bored reporter (Ewan McGregor) hooks up with a glib ex-solider named Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) while in Kuwait. Cassady claims to have been among the best and brightest at the army's First Earth Battalion. While the two wander through the desert on Cassaday's undisclosed mission, the former mind-control warrior recounts First Earth's rocky history, depicted in flashbacks. (Some of this lunacy is rooted in fact -- you just have to guess which parts.)

Men could have harnessed some of its goofy energies to make a point or two about the literal idiocy of war, or how institutions brainwash workers, but it's simply too busy having fun. Clooney plays cheerfully rogue-ish to McGregor's straight man, while Jeff Bridges and Kevin Clooney round out the crew. They, too, tap familiar characters: Bridges is the hippie savant, while Clooney is peevish and calculating. 

It's a fun if bumpy ride that unfortunately skids off the road in the last reel, with a few scenes that feel like rapidly scribbled exits. But you know what a hippie warrior might say: It's the journey, man, not the destination.

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