‘Men Who Stare At Goats’ spoofs army’s wacky past

Photo courtesy Overture FilmsThe First Earth Battalion may sound like a role-playing card game popular with teenage boys. However, it’s actually a real-life U.S. Military division and the basis for the film “The Men Who Stare at Goats.”

Released last Friday, the flick is about a group of psychic spies, called the New Earth Army in the film. It takes place through various time periods from the 1970s during the Vietnam War to the early 2000s during the Iraq war.

The film is based on British journalist Jon Ronson’s non-fiction book with the same title.

Central character and Midwestern reporter, Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), decides to report in Iraq after his wife leaves him for his editor. In Kuwait, Wilton is waiting to cross into Iraq, and meets Lyn Cassady (George

Clooney), an eccentric soldier in the New Earth Army.

Cassady turns out to be Wilton’s ticket into Iraq, and perhaps the major story he has been waiting for. Wilton learns much about the New Earth Army from Cassady, including unique tactics like the sparkly-eye technique or how to walk through walls. Things intensify when Wilton learns he is traveling with Cassady on a mission to find Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), the founder of the New Earth Army.

The pair find Django in a

remote part of the Iraqi desert with a company of soldiers and Cassady’s old nemesis from training, Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey). Hooper is determined to use New Earth Army techniques for vicious purposes, while Cassady always hoped to use them for good. He also meets a hanger of goats, reminding him of past military missions.

To gauge the stretch of what the psychic army could do with their “powers,” Cassady is assigned the task of staring at a goat until its heart stops while he is in training. He succeeds and lives with guilt.

Real life attempts at this task were documented in Ronson’s book. In a September interview with Stephen Colbert, Ronson said he was unsure if the true military command actually ever killed any goats through this method.

The odd military unit was actually created by the U.S. military after the Vietnam War to teach soldiers alternative strategies and fighting techniques after U.S. failures in Vietnam, according to the battalion’s Web site.

Clooney is extremely quirky in this film. How many times has a viewer seen him salute to the sun, yoga pose, dance like an awkward adolescent or run through the desert in a hospital gown with his buttocks exposed to army men? It’s quite a departure from his more serious roles in movies like “Good Night and Good Luck,” and more of a return to his goofy character in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

Overall, the humor seems to be created for a wide audience. It isn’t overly dirty, nor very witty, with just a little bit of slapstick. Some of the jokes were inspired by LSD-related incidents, most instigated by Bill Django (Bridges), who sports a braided ponytail and a military uniform

What does a non-military psychic say about the idea of killing goats with stares

Jennifer Outwater, psychic and medium in Atlanta, offered some knowledge in an e-mail.

“It would in fact be possible to stop the heart of another living thing if it was in agreement with that energy,” Outwater said. “Everyone has the ability to do so, it is just a matter of training or in some cases it seems to be an automatic response from birth. No different than walking or talking really, just using alternative muscles.”

Ryan Putskey and Justin Tilley, employees at the Oriental Theatre, 2230 N. Farwell Ave., both said they have overheard mixed reviews from customers after seeing the film. Some came out of the film smiling, Tilley said, while others claimed the film lacks a clear direction.

Regardless, the film is quite funny and is everything one might expect from something with the tag line, “No goats. No glory.”

Netflix has categorized the film as genre: screwball.