PLOT: A down-on-his luck reporter discovers what seem like paranormal government secrets. Rating R (language, brief violence)
BOTTOM LINE: Despite a gamely goofy Clooney, this would-be wacky comedy feels oddly staid.
CAST: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey
WHEN/WHERE: Playing at Area theaters
Pretend that you could pick the actor to play Bill Django, a graying ex-hippie afloat on a cloud of Zen, in the offbeat comedy "The Men Who Stare at Goats." If you answered Jeff Bridges, already famous for his laid-back turn as The Dude in "The Big Lebowski," you are either a Hollywood casting director or laboring in some other field that rewards thinking deep inside the box.
And you just might appreciate "Goats," which frequently resorts to the obvious when what's needed is an element of surprise.
Based on Jon Ronson's (supposedly) true book, "Goats" has one joke: Many years ago, the Army, demoralized by Vietnam and the peaceniks, finally joined the zeitgeist by forming the groovy First Earth Battalion. Its mission: to generate devastatingly good vibes.
Now, in the war-torn Middle East, reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) meets former Earther Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), who spins tales of psychic warfare and the ability to kill a goat using the evil eye. None of it works, though Cassady does have a knack for remaining clueless under pressure. Eventually, there is a showdown involving Lyn's onetime guru, Django (Bridges), and a renegade pupil (Kevin Spacey).
Don't feel extra-perceptive if you're sensing a lack of plot. Without one, director Grant Heslov and writer Peter Straughan try to find humor in hot tubs, yoga and a massive batch of LSD. All in all, "Goats" would have been groaningly familiar, even back in the 1960s.