Don Peyote

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<i>Don Peyote</i>

He’s won a Tony Award on stage, for 2005’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, but Dan Fogler’s film career has been defined chiefly by crass and/or live-wire best friend roles, in movies like Good Luck Chuck, Fanboys and Take Me Home Tonight. A wild-eyed, barrel-chested bundle of energy loosely in the mold of a Chris Farley, he’s the guy (along with Josh Gad, whom he lost out to on a starring role in the forthcoming HBO biopic of Sam Kinison) who gets the offers that five to seven years ago were going to Jack Black and Zach Galifianakis.

Naturally, though, as with many a true creative type, Fogler has chafed a bit at this limited vision of his talents. He’s delved into some indie productions over the past several years, to sometimes very engaging effect, as with Kevin and Michael Goetz’s Scenic Route, penned by Kyle Killen. He also apparently watched a bunch of the History Channel’s Mayan prophecy programming and surveyed the viral mania rampant in the culture at large to inform his second effort behind the camera, and as whacked-out a passion project as one is likely to see this calendar year, Don Peyote.

Co-written and co-directed by Fogler and Michael Canzoniero, the movie—a ramshackle vision quest in which post-millennial societal anxiety gets put into a blender along with trace elements of Circle of Iron, After Hours, Alejandro Jodorowsky, The Fisher King and Timothy Leary—stars Fogler as apple-bong enthusiast Warren Allman, a 33-year-old graphic novelist and “man of few ambitions and no radical passions” who lives in New York City with his fiancée Karen (Kelly Hutchinson). Already a bit nervous about his upcoming nuptials, Warren freaks out after he bumps into an end-of-days street preacher, and becomes obsessed with making a documentary about … well, things, man—like the consolidation of wealth and power, the evolved “Homo Sanctus” and the possible approaching apocalypse. Warren recruits his friend, Balance (Yang Miller), to the project, but after he starts huffing ayahuasca and other psychedelic drugs, it’s not long before he’s the one wearing a rope belt.

Some of the movie’s dialogue is hilariously quotable, even if completely throwaway (“I hate fish, man—fish are filled with mercury.They’re a bunch of jackasses!”), and there’s a kind of clinical, omniscient third-person narration that ducks in and out of Don Peyote, which is frequently dryly amusing (“Warren had opened a wormhole…”) as the film becomes progressively more bonkers. There’s also a sex-party nightmare that helps kickstart Warren’s descent into madness, which feels like a cross between Eyes Wide Shut and Donnie Darko, as reimagined by Adam Rifkin. It’s amazing for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that it ends in a song-and-dance number.

But Don Peyote, despite the nod to Miguel de Cervantes’ farcical masterwork, never coheres into something philosophically satisfying or even emotionally engaging. In fact, it’s easier to just list the many frequent faces that pop up in cameos (Anne Hathaway, Jay Baruchel, Josh Duhamel, Wallace Shawn, Dean Winters and Topher Grace—the latter as Fogler’s agent) and some of the things that happen (an interfaith pre-marriage counseling session that goes sideways, a brief cab ride with Abel Ferrara) as offer any deeper analysis of the plot. It sounds dickish and empty to call Don Peyote indulgent (that’s self-evident, and one of its points, really), but the movie feels so personal that it never connects to any universal feelings of panic on the part of Warren (or, by extension, Fogler). It all ends on a note of oddly successful uplift (hat tip to a cover version of the Heartless Bastards’ “Could Be So Happy”), but Don Peyote otherwise leaves one chiefly wondering what complementary drug cocktail one forgot to take while viewing.

Brent Simon is a regular contributor to Screen Daily, Paste, Playboy and Magill’s Cinema Annual, among many other outlets, as well as a member and former three-term president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

Directors: Dan Fogler, Michael Canzoniero
Writers: Dan Fogler, Michael Canzoniero
Starring: Dan Fogler, Yang Miller, Kelly Hutchinson, Anne Hathaway, Jay Baruchel, Josh Duhamel, Dean Winters, Topher Grace, Annabella Sciorra, Timothy “Speed” Levitch, Wallace Shawn, Elisabeth Harnois, Abel Ferrara
Release Date: May 16, 2014