'Don Peyote': Film Review

Don Peyote Still - H 2014
Isak Tiner

Don Peyote Still - H 2014

One of those occasions when the brown acid would be a better option.

Dan Fogler stars in and co-directs a conspiracy-theory comedy-adventure.

To call Don Peyote a mess would be putting too fine a point on it. The hallucinatory odyssey of a conspiracy-theory-obsessed New Yorker is a bad trip, destination nowhere. A wearying compendium of undeveloped ideas and overripe attempts at sensory overload, the long-in-the-works feature from writer-directors Dan Fogler and Michael Canzoniero is strictly midnight fare for the undiscriminating. Shot over a three-year period, using an “organic” method that incorporates documentary footage, this footnote in the registry of cinematic misfires is the intended chronicle of one man’s quest for truth — but in truth it plays like a record of Fogler & Co.’s search for a movie.

The schlub-as-hero premise follows 33-year-old pothead Warren (Fogler), whose search for cosmic meaning includes stops at an orgy, a harem and a psych ward — and brief encounters, in waking life and in dreams, with characters played by Anne Hathaway, Topher Grace, Jay Baruchel, Annabella Sciorra (speaking Italian) and indie filmmaker Abel Ferrara (as an angry cabbie).

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An unemployed graphic novelist, Warren is inexplicably engaged to be married, and decidedly ambivalent about that prospect. His fiancée (Kelly Hutchinson) is a rom-com caricature of a woman who’s wedding-obsessed and hell-bent on getting impregnated. She guides Warren through his aimless days by leaving helpful Post-it directives for him. After he hijacks one of their wedding-planning meetings with talk of shadow governments, she sends him back to his therapist (a cookie-munching Wallace Shawn), who wears a vest with lapels and diagnoses Warren’s problem as delusions of grandeur.

Delusions abound after Warren has a run-in with a doomsday-prophesying bum, and leaving behind the online conspiracy videos that have taken up much of his days, he enlists his camera-owning friend Balance (Yang Miller) and dives headlong into a documentary project, determined to uncover “what’s really wrong with the world” and save it in the process.

In hectic fashion the screenplay name-checks just about every conspiracy-junkie touchpoint, from the JFK assassination and the Illuminati to Area 51, the predicted 2012 apocalypse, Paul McCartney, Nikola Tesla and the NSA. Among other Manhattan-based theorists, author and shamanism proponent Daniel Pinchbeck makes an appearance, offering a desultory two cents in the tiring hodgepodge of New Age philosophy and state-of-the-art paranoia. Voiceover narration and a couple of musical segments do nothing to tie together the haphazard whirl of moving parts.

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A late-in-the-action sequence set in the Catskills, however, offers the glimpse of a movie that might have been. On the lam, Warren meets a tree-dwelling couple of dumpster divers (Josh Duhamel, Elizabeth Harnois), and the film settles down long enough to be engaging before it swings back into hyper mode.

Fogler (Balls of Fury, Broadway’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) is nothing if not committed to the part, but as neither actor or director can he make Warren’s exploits matter. If none of the story jells, it does at least look good, thanks to cinematographer John Inwood and the design contributions of Stuart Braunstein and Michael Bevins. A nightmare tsunami wave crashing into Warren’s Manhattan high-rise apartment is the most memorable image in a film that’s best forgotten.

Production companies: Highland Film Group, Studio 13, Wingman Prods., Redwire Pictures, Casadelic Pictures

Cast: Dan Fogler, Josh Duhamel, Jay Baruchel, Wallace Shawn, Kelly Hutchinson, Yang Miller, Anne Hathaway, Topher Grace, Annabella Sciorra, Abel Ferrara, Timothy Levitch, Daniel Pinchbeck

Directors: Dan Fogler, Michael Canzoniero

Screenwriters: Dan Fogler, Michael Canzoniero

Producers: Thomas Sullivan, Luke Daniels, Carlos Velazquez, Stuart Braunstein

Executive producers: Corey Large, Alan Pao, Scott Adler, Alex Cutler, Anthony Tabatznik, Dr. Richard Fogler, David Capes, Dan Fogler, Thomas Sullivan, Dan Bush, Jonas Ortega

Director of photography: John Inwood

Production designer: Stuart Braunstein

Costume designer: Michael Bevins

Editor: Dan Bush

Composer: Ben Lovett

No rating; 99 minutes