A certain degree of lunacy and silly behavior is expected from a film with a title as peculiar as “The Men Who Stare at Goats.” And antics abound, as the movie follows in the tradition of “MASH” and “Catch-22” with its absurdist approach to war and all of its troubles. Although the film makes an admirable attempt to enter the pantheon of classic war satires, it doesn’t quite make it.

The Men Who Stare at Goats

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“The Men Who Stare at Goats” — note the “Men” in the title, as this film is nearly estrogen-free — follows Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor, “Angels & Demons”), a journalist from Ann Arbor who stumbles across Lyn Cassady (George Clooney, “Michael Clayton”), a self-proclaimed “Jedi Warrior,” while covering the beginning of the war in Iraq in 2003. As it turns out, Cassaday was a member of the New Earth Army, a now-defunct covert battalion of “psychic soldiers” who were trained to develop various paranormal superpowers — one of which happens to be halting the heart of a goat after staring at it intensely.

The duo then embarks upon a series of dreadfully dull misadventures through Iraq (evoking the horrors of “Ishtar”) while the film flashes back to its best bits — the origin and history of the New Earth Army. Beginning as the brainchild of New Age devotee Bill Django (Jeff Bridges, “The Big Lebowski,” obviously paying homage to The Dude), the army, in its initial purity, would be the dream of every Gandhian idealist: a unit devoted to winning wars through love and peace instead of violence. But the founding principles of the group soon become corrupted (which explains some of the eventual goat homicide alluded to in the title).

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” wears its abject zaniness as a badge of honor. Through the crazy characters and outlandish premise, the film illuminates the shocking capabilities of human beings that arise during times of combat. It takes aim at despicable practices that took place in the war in Iraq in particular, lampooning the privatization of the military and torture of detainees, among other issues.

Being a satire, the film relies on a steady stream of jokes. Too often, though, the gags and one-liners end in uncomfortable silence rather than uproarious laughter. There are several stupid attempts at slapstick that won’t make anyone older than middle school aged chuckle, along with a poorly executed acid trip sequence that should have been more satisfying.

There’s a good amount of witty humor, but the film noticeably starts to stagnate until the introduction of Kevin Spacey (“21”) as NEA soldier Larry Hooper, who manages to out-crazy the entire cast, injecting some much-needed energy into the flailing narrative. Once his presence fades, though, the film fizzles through to its timid conclusion.

Considering the amount of talent involved in the production, the film arguably could have reached the genius of “Dr. Strangelove.” It doesn’t, but there are enough great elements to make it a worthwhile watch, including outstanding performances by Clooney and the rest of the cast, absorbing discussions of fate and destiny and the brilliant use of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling.”

Spirituality and the quest for a higher plane of existence is a common pursuit in “The Men Who Stare at Goats” — yoga and meditation are part of basic training for the New Earth Army. But if one focuses solely on strengthening the mind and neglects the needs of the body, true nirvana cannot be achieved. The film makes this very mistake — while trying to make grand observations on the nature of war and mankind, it forgets to strengthen the most fundamental, structural element of a quality film — its narrative.

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