It can be a lot of (semi-sadistic) fun to watch someone have a bad trip, and it can be a lot of (shared) fun to listen to celebrities reminisce about the bad trips they’ve survived in the past, but it’s generally agonizing to sit down and do either of those things for more than an hour. That sad fact of life proves to be an insurmountable problem for Donick Cary’s “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics,” an exasperating Netflix documentary so high on its own supply that it starts to see things that aren’t there — namely, the entertainment value in watching a bunch of famous people tell interchangeable stories about seeing the carpets move or whatever.
Want to hear Sting tell you about the time he ate some dried peyote, got higher than the notes in the chorus of “Roxanne,” and then watched Halley’s Comet from the top of a mountain while someone smeared deer’s blood over his face? Of course you do. Want A$AP Rocky to regale you with a story about when he had sex on mushrooms and ejaculated the entire spectrum of light (“I have no idea why there was a rainbow coming out of my dick; I don’t even like rainbows”). You’re only human.
But in much the same way as your ego might dissolve into the universe after dropping some good acid, all of these personal accounts soon blend together into a generic swirl of shared memories, and the film’s efforts to offset that problem only end up making it worse. Like most bad trips, Cary’s documentary is ultimately harmless. And like most bad trips, you realize something’s gone wrong after just a few minutes, and then start to freak out that it’s never going to end.
Positioning itself as a tongue-in-cheek rebuke to the kind of fear-mongering PSAs that helped make psychedelics taboo in the American unconscious, “Have a Good Trip” never tries to hide or mitigate its pro-LSD agenda. While the vast majority of the movie is devoted to celebrities bumping their heads on the doors of perception, and the whole thing would fall apart if Cary’s subjects were just a bit less famous, the film is ostensibly meant to promote the mind-expanding possibilities of psilocybin and its friends — to further the idea that out-of-body experiences can enhance self-understanding, clarify our relationship with the planet, and even help treat anxiety disorders and drug addictions.
Kicking things off with a half-assed framing device that tries to split the difference between the film’s various modes, “Have a Good Trip” introduces Nick Offerman as the kind of lab-coated scientist who might show up at the start of an after-school special and tell his teenage audience that a single dose of LSD will leave them permanently insane. “Don’t get me wrong, drugs can be dangerous,” he tells us. “But they can also be hilarious.” With the doc so quick to show its true colors, occasional asides from the likes of Deepak Chopra or UCLA psychiatry professor Dr. Charles Grob amount to little more than cheap stabs at legitimacy.
“Have a Good Trip” is less successful as an educational film than it is as a re-educational film; viewers won’t really learn anything about the effects of psychedelics on the mind and body, but anyone without first-hand experience might gradually unlearn some of what they’ve been taught. The individual stories don’t add up to much, but the fact that all of these fame-os were able to get back on their feet after some pretty bad trips, well, there might be a lesson in that.
And Cary does what he can to bring those lessons to life, even if it can seem as if he’s yet to glean any wisdom from them, himself. Case in point: After a handful of talking heads mock the way that movies have always depicted acid trips (e.g. fish-eye lenses, hyper-saturated colors, etc.), Cary chooses to illustrate his subject’s recollections with the kind of wacky animation that feels as trite as anything else; it might be hard to compete with “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” but even “Booksmart” did it better.
Cary fares better when he relies on the talents of his cast — if most of your interview subjects are comedians, you might as well use them. In one of the film’s amusing re-enactment sequences, Adam DeVine embodies a young Anthony Bourdain as the late chef waxes paranoid about the time he thought he’d killed a pretty hitchhiker (Carrie Fisher also pops up, as the dead breathe new life into a documentary that’s clearly been collecting dust for a while). Elsewhere, Paul Scheer and Rob Corddry play each other in their respective trips, while Nick Kroll — true to Offerman’s promise — hilariously recreates the time he got high at the beach and became one with the kelp.
The most extensive gag is a fake after school special hosted by Adam Scott, and starring Riki Lindhome, Haley Joel Osment, Ron Funches, and Maya Erskine as innocent high school students who get peer-pressured into doing enough drugs to kill an elephant. The parody is too stale to justify how often Cary returns to it, but it builds to a series of gags that are almost funny enough to make the long walk seem worthwhile.
By that point, however, most people will have already ditched this doc in favor of some other streaming fare; perhaps “Never Have I Ever” or “Too Hot to Handle,” two recent Netflix Originals that are respectively funnier and more hallucinatory than “Have a Good Trip” in every way. There’s plenty of room for a movie that tries to destigmatize psychedelics — especially one that argues for personal experience, and has the presence of mind to maintain that these drugs aren’t for everyone — but this slapdash effort seriously overestimates the value (entertainment or otherwise) in listening to famous people talk about staring at their hands.
It doesn’t help that some of the anecdotes are almost too interesting: Rosie Perez’s account of how LSD liberated her from a lifetime of Catholic guilt is so rich that you wish Cary had devoted an entire episode of a show to it, as opposed to squeezing it into an overstuffed 80-minute documentary that feels so long it melts time and space together without any drug enhancement whatsoever. “Life is a trip,” Chopra insists, and psychedelics might help to improve your ride. But there’s nothing this forgettable documentary can give you that one tab of LSD wouldn’t let you keep.
“Have a Good Trip” will be available to stream on Netflix starting Monday, May 11