Judge Clark Douglas could use a magical cactus right about now.
A coming-of-age road movie experience unlike any other.
The ribald apocalypse-themed comedy This is the End boasted a host of cameos from celebrities, but the most entertaining and often-discussed appearance was Michael Cera's turn as an exceptionally nasty version of himself. Within the span of a few minutes, Cera took a sledgehammer to his nice-guy image and presented himself as the world's most perverted, vile party guest. It was one of that film's amusing high points, but the indie flick Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus gives Cera an opportunity to essay a similarly unappealing character for the entire duration of a film. Alas, what was good fun for a few minutes proves insufferable at feature length.
Cera plays Jamie, a self-absorbed young American spending some time in Chile. During his travels, he encounters a free-spirited young woman named Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman, Field of Dreams), who quickly joins Jamie and his three Chilean companions (Augustin, Juan and Jose Silva—director Sebastian Silva's siblings) on a quest for an exceptionally rare hallucinatory drug. Will they find this fabled substance? If so, what insights or experiences will it grant them?
Alas, perhaps a good hallucinogen would have aided my viewing experience of this film. It's not a film without occasional pleasures—the three Silva brothers offer some amusing dry comedy along the way—but the central characters are so thoroughly irritating that it's difficult to care about their problems or their eventual redemption. Cera is a loathsome little toad, proving self-absorbed and obnoxious at every turn. Crystal Fairy is a (somewhat intentional) Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotype, offering whimsical insight and cavorting around nude on an alarmingly regular basis (a tip of the hat to Ms. Hoffman, who certainly doesn't seem shy about handling these scenes).
Much of the film was improvised, which is a risky approach for any film. Sometimes it leads to brilliance; other times it leads to films that feel sloppy and unfocused. Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus certainly belongs in the latter category. Silva gave his actors a rough outline of what each scene was supposed to accomplish and let them take it from there. A bit more writing would have been appreciated. It feels like a movie shot on a whim, but in fairness, that's exactly what it is. The movie was shot as a side project while Cera was working with Silva on Magic Magic (which I haven't seen), so the fact that it feels more like an experiment than a fully fleshed-out idea make sense. Even so, there aren't enough accidental pleasures here to make the ride worthwhile.
Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus (Blu-ray) has received a decent 1080p/2.40:1 transfer that fares best when the scenery is bright. Things get a little murky during some of the darker scenes, and the digital cinematography looks surprisingly soft on occasion, but generally it's a solid transfer. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is perfectly acceptable, delivering the low-key sound design, dialogue and music (one of the film's consistently strong elements) with clarity. Supplements are limited to a 5-minute EPK-style featurette and a trailer. Meh.
Props to Cera for trying to broaden his horizons, but this flick isn't a great showcase for him. It's clear that the people involved are talented, but the movie feels an awful lot like talented people just screwing around during their spare time.
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