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'Goats' movie is stoned on arrival

Film features guest appearance by Sonoran Desert

“Goats,” which opens Friday at the Loft Cinema, stars former X-Files heartthrob David Duchovny as a stoner shaman known as Goat Man, or Javier, or maybe Steve. The movie, shot in Tucson and Albuquerque, also features some great shots of the Sonoran Desert in full splendor.

Directed and produced by Christopher Neil in his first feature film, the story is based on former Tucsonan Mark Poirier’s 2001 novel. Poirier, whose father is a University of Arizona professor, also wrote the screenplay.

About the movie

Although Duchovny is the big name, the film is really a convoluted coming-of-age story about Ellis, a 15-year old played by Graham Phillips, best known as Zack Florrick on TV’s “The Good Wife.” Set initially in the outskirts of Tucson, Ellis struggles to find any emotional moorings between his wealthy success-oriented absentee father, Frank, played by Ty Burrell (Phil Dunphy on TV’s “Modern Family) and his angry New Age hippie mom, Wendy, played by Academy Award-nominee Vera Farmiga ("Up in the Air").

A former botanist who knew both mom and dad before Ellis, Goat Man takes care of the pool and yard, while also growing large amounts of stupefying marijuana in the green house. He teaches Ellis his understanding of life by getting him stoned during long wandering treks through the desert with the goats.

Ellis’ real journey begins when he moves to his father’s alma mater, a boarding school where he longs for Goat Man’s balmy ganga, but also slowly reconnects with his dad. There are subplots of teen sex and other angst, Goat Man’s own struggles to reach adulthood, and Wendy’s current lover who becomes Goat Man’s nemesis, played sneeringly by Justin Kirk from TV’s “Weeds.”

Also putting in appearances are Dakota Johnson (Don and Melanie’s daughter) as Ellis’ heartthrob and Kari Russell as his step-mom.

Further name-checking includes actor Jason Schwartzman, who shares composer credits with Woody Jackson. Schwartzman and Neil are both related to Francis Ford Coppola’s clan.

The desert we know and love

However, it’s the gorgeous Sonoran Desert that somehow steals the show. Shot lovingly by cinematographer Wayne Troll in his first major movie, the film displays National Geographic intensity as it captures the sharp colors of the desert, the tan hills and cornflower blue sky. There are lots of back-lit haloed cacti, long shots of the Tucson area, and a real sense of vastness in the landscape, as in the opening shot. There are also transitional shots on dusty county roads and at Tucson International Airport.

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According to Shelli Hall, director of the Tucson Film Office, the production filmed for 14 days and rented nearly 1,000 room nights at Hacienda del Sol, the Westin La Paloma and Sheraton Four Points hotels. The company hired approximately 60 crew members from Arizona. Hall estimated the total economic impact of the film on Tucson at just over $1 million.

The film has scored some bad press, copping 11 mixed and 2 negative reviews according to MetaCritic, with Slant Magazine calling it, “More location-scouted and photographed than directed and acted.” It’s already scheduled to go to DVD next month.

Fortunately, Tucson got its money up front.

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'Goats' stars David Duchovny and the desert

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If you go

  • What: “Goats,” a film by Christopher Neil
  • Where: The Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd.
  • When: Opens Aug. 24. Contact The Loft Cinema for showtimes
  • Tickets: $6.75 - $9.25 with discounts available