“This is a true story” is how Jon Ronson began his 2004 nonfiction book about a secret U.S. Army project started in 1979. “More of this is true than you would believe” is how a comic film begins that’s based the book and borrows its title. U.S. soldiers trained under a New Age renegade played by Jeff Bridges who experimented with paranormal, extra-sensory techniques, including assassination-by-staring. Goats were his guinea pigs. Screenwriter Peter Straughan says he worked from Ronson’s reporting without meeting the original storytellers. Unfortunately, this surefire material fizzles with a clunky flashback structure built into a reporter’s yarn and road movie. Grant Heslov directs with less than shapeshifting élan between tones and genres. Reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) teams up with retired goat-starer Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) for an adventure in Iraq that recalls “The Hunting Party.” Thanks to “remote-viewing” or blind chance, they end up at a desert base where both Lyn’s mentor and his nemesis now work as private contractors. Tactical LSD catalyzes the liberation of goats as well as two-legged detainees. As a satire of militarized consciousness, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” is not remotely psychoactive. With Kevin Spacey, Robert Patrick, Stephen Root, Stephen Lang and Waleed Zuaiter. 95m. (Bill Stamets)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.