As it sounds, “Goats” is a bleating animal, pretty but rather dumb. Waywardly splitting its time between the Tucson foothills and the adolescent hero’s East Coast prep school, this monotonously deadpan coming-of-age comedy has little to recommend it beyond some beautiful widescreen cinematography and the momentary kick of seeing David Duchovny looking like a stoned Jesus as Goat Man, the boy’s pot-growing, goat-trekking surrogate dad. Genial but gratingly irrelevant and none too witty, the pic herds its talented actors into a narrative desert. What does a goat say? Na-a-a-a.
Adapted by Mark Jude Poirier from his like-titled novel, “Goats” follows Ellis Whitman (Graham Phillips, from TV’s “The Good Wife”), a 15-year-old Arizonan whose idle rich father, Frank (Ty Burrell), lives in D.C. with bland wife Judy (Keri Russell), and whose narcissistic New Age mom, Wendy (Vera Farmiga, in a serape), appears less devoted to him than to her “healing vortex workshops” and boy-toy du jour Bennet (Justin Kirk). Thus the kid’s parental unit is Goat Man, aka Javier, with whom he smokes copious amounts of grass while roaming the barren hills alongside Lance and Frieda, Javier’s beloved goats.
Shunted off to Gates Academy at summer’s end, Ellis waits impatiently for a medicinal care package from Goat Man; is coerced by Coach (Anthony Anderson) into joining the track team; and falls in love at first sight with dining-hall employee Minnie (Dakota Johnson), who shocks him by being not only well read but well known for sexually servicing the Gates student body for extra cash.
On weekends and holidays, owing to his folks’ ample reserves, Ellis visits Dad, largely defined by his “poetry glasses,” and Mom, whose latest spiritual practice has her writhing on the floor. As per generic formula, the kid inches his way closer to reconciliation with both parents. By default, the pic’s biggest surprises find the Speedo-sporting Bennet “free-ballin'” in a scene out of vintage Farrelly Brothers farce, and Goat Man cleaning up his act about halfway through, shedding roughly a pound of hair.
The overall vibe of first-time director Christopher Neil is certainly mellow, but his movie is still a bong hit short of a decent buzz. Farmiga seems to be having a smidgen of fun as wacky Wendy, although Neil never lets the camera get close enough to the character for the viewer to know what makes her tick. Playing straight man to the screwball ensemble, handsome young Phillips is but a blank slate.
Tech credits, including Wyatt Troll’s lovely landscape shooting, are as professional as the humor is pedestrian.