"MORE OF THIS is true than you would believe," reads a disclaimer at the beginning of The Men Who Stare at Goats. Maybe I'm a sucker, or maybe I've been conditioned by too many science-fiction movies, or maybe my level of faith in the US government is so miniscule that I'll believe just about anything about it, but honestly, I didn't have much trouble believing most of the ridiculous stuff in Goats, a film that details the ostensibly true story of American soldiers who trained to become "psychic spies" in the 1980s. Calling themselves "Jedi warriors," the men recruited into "Project Jedi" are trained by Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), a Vietnam vet-turned-New Age guru who's tasked by Brigadier General Dean Hopgood (Stephen Lang) with building the "New Earth Army." He does this by making them avoid solid foods, walk over hot coals, and dance to Billy Idol's "Dancing with Myself"; the goal, naturally, is to learn to phase in and out of existence, become invisible, and telepathically stop goats' hearts.
Among these "warrior monks" are the skilled Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), who's able to get particularly into the psychic zone while listening to Boston's "More Than a Feeling," and Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), a smarmy shit who lacks Cassady's talents but makes up for it in malicious ambition.
In Goats, much of the story of Project Jedi—from its supposed origins in the '80s to its more recent supposed uses in Iraq—is told via Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a small-time reporter who stumbles upon Cassady in Kuwait. As the beleaguered, flustered Wilton tags along on a top-secret mission in Iraq, Cassady unfurls the secret history of Project Jedi—a ludicrous, rambling tale crammed with copious amounts of New Age gibberish, backstabbing, run-ins with military protocol, and LSD.
Inspired by Jon Ronson's 2004 book about the US Army's experiments with the paranormal, Goats works best in its flashbacks, which are weird and hilarious; Clooney, Spacey, Bridges, and Lang all seem to be having a blast. In the modern-day sequences—which consist of a possibly insane Cassady dragging a whining Wilton through the desert—Goats loses much of its goofy, satirical edge, but director Grant Heslov never totally strays from the film's outlandish-but-weirdly-believable tone, which, at its best, recalls Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket and Dr. Strangelove. The Men Who Stare at Goats isn't nearly as good as either of those films, but Heslov's goals seem somewhat the same as Kubrick's: Throw all sorts of preposterous allegations at those in power, and then step back, content and happy and pleased with how many of those allegations, in context, don't seem quite as ridiculous as they did before.