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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The movie-goer who stared at nothing

Published: November 13, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

The trailer of “The Men Who Stare At Goats” is promising enough: George Clooney in a kitschy mustache is a reactivated psychic warrior for the Army and Ewan McGregor, a bright-eyed reporter, follows him on his new mission.

However, the movie itself fails to make good on the trailer’s promises. It attempts to emulate the offbeat humor of “The Big Lebowski,” but fails to capture the same freshness. Like the cast of “The Big Lebowski,” “The Men Who Stare At Goats” manages to draw stars of equivalent stature. Ewan McGregor plays Bob Wilton, a small town reporter, who, after being dumped by his wife for his boss, heads to the Middle East to make it as an esteemed war correspondent.

However, it is as he is sitting alone at a hotel bar that he comes across Lyn Cassady (George Clooney’s character), a name he recognizes from a previous interview with a local crazy. Intrigued, he pursues Cassady, who reveals that he is heading into Iraq after being re-activated as a solider for the New Earth Army.

The film begins to alternate between Bob and Lyn’s road trip guided solely by Lyn’s “psychic” powers and clips of Lyn’s training as a so-called Jedi warrior. The creator of the New Earth Army concept is Bill Django, played by “The Big Lebowski” star Jeff Bridges, who is a hippie in the midst of the U.S. military. The training of the New Earth Army consists, among other things, of morning yoga, dancing freely and driving (or attempting to drive) jeeps blindfolded. The program is a seeming success, until the bitter and ultra-competitive soldier, Larry Hooper, played by Kevin Spacey, tests LSD on an innocent member of the New Earth Army, to see if the drug would be useful to his own abilities as a psychic warrior. His trip takes a turn for the worse and he ends up committing suicide in the quad of the barracks, resulting in the disbanding of the New Earth Army.

The film focuses heavily on finding oneself, as Bob struggles to infuse meaning into his career and Lyn searches for something to legitimate his past dedication and belief in the goals of the New Earth Army. However, the film does not take a clear-cut stance on this struggle. Instead the viewer is left with the unsettling suspicion that the struggle is for nothing. However, this is not due to any clues the filmmakers may give. Rather, halfway through the movie, the viewer is left with the equally unsettling feeling that there is no point to the movie.

With its lack of a profound lesson, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” amounts to a collection of amusing moments. However, an interested party does not have to sit through the 90-minute movie for that; instead, I recommend opting for the two-minute trailer.