"Wacky" isn't George Clooney's strong suit as an actor. But it's always at least amusing to watch the suave, silky leading man from Kentucky let his freak flag fly.
It flutters and flaps in The Men Who Stare at Goats, an odder-than-odd farce about a small-town reporter named Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) who stumbles across the graduates of an Army "psychic" soldier program, self-described "Jedi warriors" taught to fly, walk through walls, practice mind control and "cloud bursting" — concentrating on a cloud until it breaks up, then taking the credit for it.
And goat staring? That's where these "remote viewing" psychics glare at a hapless farm animal until its heart stops.
Bob is incredulous when he hears of this unit, even more so when he stumbles across its most famous member, Lyn Cassady (Clooney). Lyn, who goes by Skip, reluctantly regales Bob with tales of the glorious "Jedi" Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), whose battlefield epiphany in Vietnam sent him on a spirit quest that led to founding this New Age "New Earth Army."
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As Bob and Skip stumble into Iraq in the opening days of the war, Skip employs his training with daft conviction, and Bob's jaw drops further by the minute as they have accidents, endure kidnapping and run-ins with Skip's New Earth Army nemesis (Kevin Spacey in Evil/Smart Kevin Spacey mode).
This movie from Clooney crony Grant Heslov (he wrote the script for Good Night, and Good Luck) struggles to be as giddy as its irreverent story and screwball characters promise. The laugh-out-loud moments and nutty characters (Bridges is perfect) strain to find each other in the absolute reality of Skip and Bob's Iraqi Odyssey.
Making the satire here funny, that "more of this film is true than you'd care to believe" claim in the opening credits, is difficult because really, what's so hard to believe? Cracks about this being a program that astrology- believing Ronald Reagan "protected" seem straight out of a Reagan biography.
It's broad yet realistic, silly yet never exuberantly goofy. Thus, The Men Who Stare at Goats might be the first movie to attempt an IED joke, but that doesn't mean they get a big laugh out of it.