The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Don Peyote

After earning acclaim in the Broadway hit The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Dan Fogler caught the attention of Hollywood. Perhaps because of a slight physical resemblance, he was often cast as a poor man's Jack Black and shoved into roles that required him to be manic (Balls of Fury, Love Happens) or to play the Obnoxious Best Friend (Good Luck Chuck, Take Me Home Tonight). This typecasting was unfortunate, because it was clear that Fogler was capable of so much more. Maybe he realized that, too, because, together with Michael Canzoniero, he wrote and directed the comedy Don Peyote. This is simultaneously an incoherent film that's kind of a chore to sit through and a bold attempt by an actor to seize control of his career.

Fogler plays Warren Allman, an unemployed pot-smoker who is shakily engaged to be married. One afternoon, he has a bizarre street encounter with a homeless man who is preaching “end of the world” nonsense. After this meeting, Warren becomes obsessed with conspiracy and doomsday theories, and also begins having very bizarre hallucinations. One of them involves a woman (Anne Hathaway) who fills him in on all the mysteries of the universe. Warren decides to make a documentary film about his enlightenment, only to plunge down the deepest of rabbit holes. Is he delusional? High? Mentally ill? Actually, he's all of these things, but that doesn't stop him from attaining a new state of consciousness. Besides Hathaway, several other celebrities appear in cameos, including Wallace Shawn as a psychiatrist, Jay Baruchel as a drug dealer, and Josh Duhamel as a guy with a plan to slip a powerful hallucinogenic into the water supply.

Don Peyote doesn't tell a story so much as it just presents Warren's spiritual journey, which involves 2012 paranoia and virtually every other apocalyptic theory that has arisen over the last few decades. It is designed to be a great big drug trip of a movie. (Substance use is a common refrain.) One scene doesn't seem to have much to do with the one before it or the one after it, at least on the surface. Everything plays as though created by the ingestion of a narcotic. Things happen for no apparent reason, while a series of strange people and unexpected elements continually arise out of nowhere. Dialogue is spoken, yet it makes no sense. My suspicion is that Fogler will be accused of being an incompetent filmmaker. That's really not true. I believe he's made exactly the movie he set out to make. He's really trying to say something. I don't know what it is, but he certainly seems sincere about it. If you're not tapped into whatever he's getting at, the film will seem like an incomprehensible mess. If you do...well, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

As frustrating as Don Peyote can be to watch – and it's very frustrating if you're not on its kooky, drug-addled wavelength - I acknowledge having some admiration for its weird, balls-to-the-wall gumption. The movie makes no concession whatsoever toward being accessible to mainstream audiences. Its obtuseness is entirely intentional. At one point, Topher Grace pops up, playing Dan Fogler's agent. He breaks the fourth wall to admit that Don Peyote is a strange movie most people won't get. Well, it's true. But Fogler gets to do a lot more than just be the Obnoxious Best Friend here. He sings, dances, does comedy, and even has a dramatic moment or two. In some scenes, he plays normal; in others, wickedly demented. The actor shows a whole range of ability that has heretofore been unseen by movie audiences. Good for him.

Looking back, I can see that this is the nicest negative review I've ever written. My feelings on Don Peyote are a bit conflicted. I really didn't jibe to it, and the 99-minute running time began to feel interminable after a while. At the same time, I respect the attempt to do something experimental and bold. There is an audience for this film. I'm not in it, but they're out there.

(1/2 out of four)

Don Peyote is unrated, but contains frequent drug use, profanity, and some nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.

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