I’ll say this for Dan Fogler’s “Don Peyote”—its title might be the finest play on “Quixote” in cinema history. (Sorry, 2007’s “Donkey Xote.”) Unfortunately, a pun-tastic title does not guarantee a winning film, as the makers of “R.I.P.D.” can attest. As star, co-writer, and co-director of “Don Peyote,” Fogler deserves credit for the sheer ambition involved in this oddball story of a stoner’s awakening. The likable actor who took home a Tony for Broadway’s “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and has starred in a strange mix of comedies that includes everything from “Balls of Fury” to “Taking Woodstock” also called in a shockingly eclectic bunch for cameo roles: Anne Hathaway, Josh Duhamel, Topher Grace, Jay Baruchel, Wallace Shawn, Annabella Sciorra and Abel Ferrara (huh?!). But the result is an amateurish mess without a single laugh. Not. One. Laugh.
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That is no exaggeration. “Don Peyote” is certainly a comedy, albeit one attempting to tackle some of the weighty concerns that swirled around December 2012. And that is a problem, since the apocalypse (no) hysteria of that time period now seems long, long ago. Fogler’s film, then, feels curiously dated and culturally irrelevant. Perhaps in the hands of a Charlie Kaufman or Michel Gondry, this story could move beyond the unexceptional, but in Fogler’s hands, “Don Peyote” is a slow-moving dirge. It feels endless, and endlessly exhausting. Employing dull narration does not help. “Warren was an ordinary person, just one of 10 million being inhabiting this island,” the opening voice over sadly states as Fogler’s protagonist tools through Manhattan on his bicycle.
Warren is, if not quite a man-child, then an aimless thirtysomething. He is 33, to be exact, an “unemployed marginally successful graphic novelist who smoked marijuana, often, and had lots of time on his hands.” He is engaged to Karen (Kelly Hutchinson), a woman who seems defeated by Warren’s lack of ambition and overall malaise.. Theirs is a long engagement, and, as the narrator explains in typically cringe-worthy fashion, “[Karen’s] biological alarm was blaring like a foghorn.” The root of the problem, seemingly, is Warren himself. The “only thing remarkable in Warren’s day-to-day existence was his dreams,” an unsurprising statement about a stoner who spends his days watching conspiracy videos online.
Of course, an epiphany awaits. Warren nonsensically is castigated by a homeless man holding an “end is near” sign, and finds himself covered in the “doomsday man” ’s sweat. (This is most certainly not a Joyce-ian epiphany.) Soon, for some reason, Anne Hathaway enters as a sexy, ass-kicking “agent of truth/general of life.” It’s a silly, nothing role in a silly, nothing movie, but it is nice to see a famous face. Hathaway’s agent/what-have-you passes on the world’s most closely-guarded secrets to Warren: the truth about the Illuminati, the moon landing, the JFK assassination, Area 51, Paul McCartney. (I admit the inclusion of the latter was clever.)
Warren’s consciousness now expanded, he embarks on a plan to make a documentary “that’s going to save the fucking world.” This quest costs him his fiancée and his sanity. Warren spirals “deeper into the rabbit hole on his quest for truth,” and the film becomes even more aimless, culminating in a number of poorly conceived fantasy sequences, and the introduction of a “beautiful hobo” couple. The male half of the pair is played by Josh Duhamel, and you know things are problematic when Josh Duhamel gives the film’s most memorable comedic performance. Close behind is the ever-droll Wallace Shawn, who gives a typically witty performance as Warren’s cookie-munching shrink.The film’s best performance comes from actress Kelly Hutchinson as Warren’s fiancée Amanda. It’s a rather one-not role, but she is believable and more likable than anyone else onscreen. Hutchinson brings some dramatic heft to her scenes, especially near film’s end.
“Don Peyote” is another end of the world comedy, one which tries and fails to approach the anarchic glee of “This is the End” and makes “Seeking a Friend at the End of the World” look like “Melancholia.” Interestingly, when the film reaches its tongue-in-cheek climax, Fogler manages to put together a surprisingly sweet scene between Warren and a young boy. But it is too little too late, and even a last-minute song-and-dance sequence cannot redeem things. Taking on such a wacky project for his second feature as a director shows evidence of real ambition, yet “Don Peyote” must be considered a complete miss. Still, Fogler is certainly not without charm and comedic ability. Should he direct again, it is possible he will create a film worthy of his talent, and worth watching. “Don Peyote,” however, is as big a bust as the apocalypse of December 2012. [D]