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The Men Who Stare at Goats

Off the Wall, Literally

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars.

I’m not sure how much of The Men Who Stare at Goats is true. It’s inspired by Jon Ronson’s book, which documents a time when the U.S. military encouraged a select few to hone their psychic abilities, believing, however inaccurately, that the Russians were doing the same. But what transpires in the movie, directed by Grant Heslov and starring George Clooney, is so incredibly over-the-top that it’s difficult to believe.

That’s not a bad thing. Goats is an extremely funny movie that follows Wilton (Ewan McGregor) as he attempts to uncover the story of a lifetime. His subject is Lyn (George Clooney), the army’s paranormal superstar and the only soldier capable of killing a goat with the powers of his mind. Lyn isn’t particularly proud of this – he regrets the incident, and fears it has put a curse on his military colleagues. Yet he carries on in hopes of finding some measure of redemption, and Peter Straughan’s script provides him with that.

Along the way, we’re introduced to Lyn’s onetime cohorts: Bill (Jeff Bridges), an army general who seems to be channeling the spirit of the Dude from The Big Lebowski as he trains his underlings to fight using only their mental abilities; and Larry (Kevin Spacey), the wannabe psychic who undermines Bill at every turn. Both fancy themselves Jedi Knights, and act accordingly, often with amusingly absurd results.

Whether Goats is based in reality is ultimately irrelevant — it’s highly entertaining and very funny. Its characters behave ludicrously, trying to walk through walls (literally) because they’ve been trained to believe they can. When they fail, as so frequently they do, it doesn’t deter them. They’re Jedis, or so they think, and even the most powerful knights need guidance.