The Men Who Stare at Goats is one odd duck. A title card reads "More of this is true than you would believe," but it's impossible to tell what's factual in this fictionalized take on Jon Ronson's book about Army experiments in the paranormal because it all sounds so deeply ludicrous. The film is never uninteresting, but never entirely successful, either.
Reeling from his wife's infidelity, journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) leaves his podunk paper in Ann Arbor, Mich., seeking the wilder climes of Iraq, circa the second invasion. Cooling his heels in Kuwait, Wilton more or less bumps into the story of a lifetime, packaged neatly in the mustachioed frame of George Clooney's Lyn Cassady, psychic spy.
That's just one name for the particular breed of soldier that came out of the military's mid-'80s "New Earth Army," the brainchild of Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), a Vietnam veteran who went out on a fact-finding mission for alternative fighting methods and came back to base, six years later, a long-haired peacenik proponent of yoga, juice fasts, and the possibilities of invisibility and telepathy for his newly formed regiment of "Jedi warriors." (The goats, by the way, are used for practice: A good psychic spy should be able to fell one with a concentrated glare.)
Lyn relates all this to Bob as they travel into Iraq together, and the structure is not always an elegant one. Transitions from the training camp at Fort Bragg to present-day desert are abrupt. The flashbacks are narrated by Bob ("Lyn told me...") without the addition of any other sources to confirm or deny, which has the effect of legitimizing Lyn's story for the viewer when it's clear there's supposed to be some doubt.
This is Grant Heslov's first time directing, and there are too many tiny blunders to call his debut a triumph. He ruins an inspired climax with a generic, drum-heavy music miscue, and even the last-reel pick-me-up of Boston's "More Than a Feeling" can't help the film find the beat.
Still, there is Clooney's deceptively layered performance, some startling bits of laugh-out-loud absurdity, and the not at all negligible pleasure to be had in a cockeyed point of view.