Bob Wilton is a small-town Michigan reporter pushed into adventure by his wife's affair with the newspaper editor.
Taking stock in his now-empty life, Wilton (Ewan McGregor, "Amelia") goes to war as an embedded and rather green journalist in search of a story to give him direction and purpose. Overseas and waiting for permission to cover the second Iraq War, he bumps into Lyn Cassady (George Clooney, "Burn After Reading"), an odd contractor with a strange connection to a story Wilton previously wrote.
Skittish and cryptic at first, Cassady eventually opens up about his history with a top-secret military project centering around "psychic spies," an experimental Army outfit born from Vietnam that trained soldiers to use remote viewing, telekinetics and other weaponry of the mind to aid the U.S. military.
Wilton wants to believe Cassady, and convinces the ex-solder to let him tell the incredible story of these super "Jedi" soldiers armed with superpowers, like leaping through walls, disarming enemies with "sparkling eyes" techniques or locating abducted military leaders with concentrated thoughts.
With a script adapted by Peter Straughan ("How to Lose Friends & Alienate People") from a 2004 book by Jon Ronson, "The Men Who Stare at Goats" is funny, frenetic and hard to follow. After Wilton's story is established, the narrative splits into two paths: one following the reporter and his unusual subject on their sandy Iraqi adventure, and scenes that fade back to follow the development of the experimental military program. The fades prove the funniest.
The leader of Cassady's team was soldier-turned-hippie guru Bill Django (Jeff Bridges, "Iron Man"), a scruffy ponytail guy who convinced the government to devote resources to training a "New Age Army." Under his tutelage, chosen soldiers were gathered to mediate, dance and channel their chi to become modern warrior monks. The troops occasionally use their powers to help out Uncle Sam, but mostly they help themselves to drugs, comfy confines and a much-less-stringent military life.
Cassady's account is unbelievable, and most of his supposed powers are unconvincing, but the quirky ex-soldier has an affable energy that resonates with Wilton, who is eventually forced to put his faith in the Jedi warrior.
Leaning on "The Big Lebowski" to channel more than a bit of The Dude, Bridges steals most of the best scenes as he leads his chosen ones through bizarre experiments and tangles with military bureaucracy. Playing it straight as a powerful chosen one with an edgy ulterior purpose, Kevin Spacey ("Moon") is fine in his role, but he's largely overused and underwhelming.
Wide-eyed and insecure, McGregor is atypical enough to be likable and believable, and Clooney is funny, both with his physical embellishments and straight delivery of wacky dialogue. For him, "Goats" bleats somewhere between "Burn After Reading" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
Without knowing exactly what he was handed script-wise, it's hard to know how well Grant Heslov (TV's "Unscripted") worked as a director. The end result is serviceable and enjoyable, but energy audiences might otherwise devote to laughing is instead expended on back-and-forth transitions and time-line interstitials.
"Goat" gets it, but not quite all of it.