George Clooney browbeats livestock with the same crazy eyes he brought to O Brother, Where Art Thou?—but his new movie, an unfocused comedy about weird Army pseudoscience, ends up blinking before we laugh. The actual history of military mind control (a topic that Jon Ronson’s original 2004 nonfiction account poked dark fun at) would make for spookier stuff: Our government paid its lab technicians to dose unwitting agents with LSD, a study that later led its leader to suicide. The movie version, meanwhile, has a trippy smile glued to its face. Clooney’s intense operative is outed by a skeptical journalist (McGregor) embedded in Kuwait. This Ishtar-ish couple finds itself isolated on the battlefield, where the two might actually do some good.
Clooney and director Grant Heslov can’t have meant their film to be a total lark; both are vets of the somber Good Night, and Good Luck. Yet if Strangelovian zaniness was their goal, they should have loaded the chamber with some real ammo. In too-brief flashbacks, we’re introduced to a hippyish fighting force called the New Earth Army, led by the Dude himself, Jeff Bridges, playing a cracked commando. Away from other soldiers, they hone their superpowers like “remote viewing” (we never hear if any kidnappers are found) and psychic release on the dance floor; the movie gets some scant mileage from the boneheaded bliss-out of Boston’s “More than a Feeling.” But these episodes and a sloppy final act push the effort into a strange realm of failure: It’s way too heady to work as the farce it shouldn’t have been in the first place.—Joshua Rothkopf