03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Ishtar Lives! Men Who Stare at Goats

N.B.: Ishtar, starring two of the hottest stars of the seventies: Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman, was one of the 'biggest' movies released in 1987. Its can't miss premise involving two American lounge singers wandering in the Moroccan desert was directed by Elaine May of Mike Nichols and Elaine May fame. A 'buddy' movie with a comic/action plot, it has been on most top ten worst films in history lists since its release. Reactions to the movie were so negative that all copies were confiscated by the United Nations and are kept under guard at the Yucca Mountain Repository.

Men Who Stare at Goats is so bad that I write in stunned disbelief. I can only compare the experience to, let me think, watching paint dry while undergoing a colonoscopy sans anesthesia while Perez Hilton scratches his long acrylic fingernails slowly up and down a chalkboard held inches from my ear.

A half full theater sat in deep silence. During the several centuries it took for this movie to begin and end, there were, at most, three titters. Yet, it is billed as "an eye-opening and often hilarious exploration of the government's attempts to harness paranormal abilities to combat its enemies."


Titters aside, things got so bad I started encouraging people to call or answer their cell phones or text their friends, to divert our attention from what was happening on the screen. I walked out at one point and convinced theater management to turn the house lights on to allow book reading and crossword puzzle work. Rather than objecting to my request, I was told that management had been asked to turn them on for humanities' sake at every showing today.

My theory is that Hollywood decided to remake Ishtar. The reason, I can only guess: global warming. It's causing everything else these days.

Ishtar, for those who don't know, was a famously awful movie made by extremely talented people. A movie that, until Men Who Stare at Goats, set the gold standard for, unfunny, painful, star centric comedies.

Ishtar is Citizen Kane compared to Goats.

I will try to sum up the plot. Well, that was easy, there is no plot. Much of what appears on the screen seems a pastiche of those particularly unfunny commercials these days starring inept white guys doing really dumb or cruel things. If you could imagine a continuous loop of the most wooden of ads like that you will get a sense of the slow repetitive un-comedy of Goats. Or, maybe a better example would be if you have persevered through decades of painfully unfunny Saturday Night Live skits starring celebrity hosts and you decided to vid (oh, Alex and my brothers) 30 of the worst, back to back, you might get an idea of the awkward celebrity-ness of the exercise. Its pacing is glacial. The humor, visual or spoken, not even up to the standards of Live at Five News teams.

It must have been hell watching the dailies for the crew. You can imagine the atmosphere as the soul deadening comic bits revealed themselves in all their turgid humorlessness. One can hear the director and scriptwriter keeping up a steady banter to hold down heroin use: wait until we put the music in ... no worries, we'll cut this a bit differently ... this is good, real good ... what? ... no, I've never heard of Ishtar.

Schisse ... even a laugh track machine would malfunction if asked to laugh at Goats.

Plot. Yes, plot, one must not just rant, but give readers an idea of the movie so they can make a judicious choice in deciding to attend. The plot: uhhhh, emmmmmm, aaaarrrgh, nope, and I really am trying here ... there is no plot.

Goats consists of scenes and flashbacks about some new age army unit doing hippie things at Ft. Bragg, Kuwait, Iraq, and in the desert. Sober minds must have realized the enormity of script/direction/acting train wreck while filming and desperation ensued. In Hollywood desperation usually means throwing in Abu Ghraib references wherever possible. This insulates the filmmakers by appealing to West Hollywooders and movie critics. There isn't a movie critic living who wouldn't give three stars to a movie with an Abu Ghraib reference. Four stars if GWB is portrayed as a buffoon. In these perilous times, any Hollywood movie that combines sand and soldiers must have an obligatory Abu Ghraib scene somewhere.

But, Goats evidently got completely out of hand either in rushes or in previews. Appeals to politically correct prejudices were evidently not enough to deflect even anti-war zealots from its awfulness.

So, for the first time in years we have a lysergic acid subplot. It's a fall back, I guess, for when all else fails: let's go tripping. You know, maybe we can escape with our reputations intact if we infer that all that you have seen up here would make sense if you were four tabs into a windowpane world. Perhaps IMDb's trivia section will disclose, in due time, that the director et al actually did the movie on acid.

That would explain a lot.

One could hope, for the sake of future Goats' goers, that ushers will hand out tabs of Sunshine to those foolish enough to pay to see it. The theater owners could flick house lights off and on rapidly during showings, while patrons use the brightly lit faces of their cell phones as glow sticks, and a be in might raise its retro Ishtar-ish head. Then all might be right with the movie, in a Lucy in the Sky-ish ruminant romp.

But, I merely fantasize. Goats is a movie that every aspiring filmmaker should see: if you have doubts about your ability to be a director, screenwriter, producer, or actor, they will disappear within thirty minutes.

Harry Reid could make a better, funnier movie.