Sadly not the glacially paced Central Asian arthouse revelry suggested by its title, The Men Who Stare at Goats is rather a funny but overlabored treasury of strange but true tales from the Army’s Cold War forays into New Age-influenced experimental warfare. The opening title card, reading “More of this is true than you would believe,” seems true mostly in the abstract: adapting Jon Ronson’s book, screenwriter Peter Straughan strains, with composite characters and a framing story, to fit in all the good stuff.
In the early days of Iraqi Freedom, journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) leaves his life of quiet middle-American desperation, and embeds with poolside-bronzed, Dennis Farina-mustached “contractor” Lyn Cassady (George Clooney). Who, for someone with his service record, is awfully puppydog eager to share classified info about the psychic arms race started by flower-officer and Star Wars fan Bill Django (Jeff Bridges—a plurality of jokes depend on you finding The Dude in fatigues a font of undiminishing hilarity). The structure demotes the core material to expository flashbacks, staged by tyro director and Clooney bud Grant Heslov as montages timed to point-by-point voiceover and yuk-yuk MOR cues—scenes of servicemen tripping balls, officers stopping animals’ hearts though the power of concentration, and top brass trying to phase through walls play unusually explicitly as a checklist of can-you-believe-this anecdotes. Straughan and Heslov seem to have some allegorical ideas about how neocons used the Iraq invasion to co-opt military idealism for fun and profit, but their tone never gets far enough past vaguely condescending incredulity for them to do anything about it.
Opens November 6