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Originally published Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 3:03 PM

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Movie review

George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor and assorted ruminants kick up their heels in 'Men Who Stare at Goats'

A review of "The Men Who Stare at Goats," starring George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey, a comedy about "psychic spies" trained by the U.S. government. It's a hoot (a "baa"?), says Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'The Men Who Stare at Goats,' with George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, Robert Patrick, Stephen Root, Stephen Lang, Rebecca Mader. Directed by Grant Heslov, from a screenplay by Peter Straughan, based on the book by Jon Ronson. 93 minutes. Rated R for language, some drug content and brief nudity. Several theaters; see Page 17.

The line between satirical and silly can be a thin one, and Grant Heslov's "The Men Who Stare at Goats" skips over it and back as quickly as a double-Dutch jumper, and often as nimbly. It's a slight film, even with an unnecessarily uplifting message near the end, but it's often a kick; a chance for a handful of actors — and a goat — to toss around some off-the-wall dialogue (i.e. "Last week I killed my hamster") and kick up their heels in the service of comedy.

"More of this is true than you would believe," says a title card at the beginning of the movie, and indeed it is hard to believe; this story is as bizarre as the movie's irresistible title indicates. Based on a nonfiction book by journalist Jon Ronson, "The Men Who Stare at Goats" is the story of a top-secret unit of "psychic spies" trained by the U.S. government to fight using only their minds. They practice on goats — and, sometimes, unfortunate hamsters.

Ewan McGregor plays journalist Bob Wilton, who's desperate for a story and stumbles upon Lyn Cassady (George Clooney, equipped with an amusingly twitchy mustache), a former psychic spy who can't resist talking about it. Bob ends up tagging along with Lyn on a mission in the Iraq desert, to find the missing and oh-so-eccentric founder of the unit, Bill Django (Jeff Bridges).

Bridges, wearing braids and a sunnily doped-out expression, has a ball with this role, particularly in a moment when he gets to make what must be cinema's most random (and therefore, hilarious) Angela Lansbury reference. Kevin Spacey uses his trademark deadpan as a strait-laced (but nonetheless weird) psychic at odds with Django and utterly confident in his own abilities: At a wedding, he greets the bride and groom in the receiving line with a businesslike, "Sorry it doesn't work out between you two." McGregor, nicely restrained, watches the story of a lifetime unfolding before his eyes; he's dazzled, even as he's in a bit over his head.

And Clooney, who's handsome enough to make us forget that he's a very funny comedian, finds something unexpected in every scene. In one, he faces off with a very camera-ready goat, who seems to be chewing in a rather challenging way. Clooney stares, the goat chomps, and there's no reason on earth why this should be compelling — but you can't take your eyes off it, and you can't stop giggling. "The Men Who Stare at Goats" doesn't stay with you long, but it's good fun while it lasts.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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