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Tourists in Chile take the high road in ‘Crystal Fairy’

Michael CerGaby Hoffmann play Americans chasing mind-altering mescaline “Crystal Fairy   Magical Cactus.”

Michael Cera and Gaby Hoffmann play Americans chasing mind-altering mescaline in “Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus.”

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Jamie Michael Cera

Crystal Gaby Hoffmann

Champa Juan Andres Silva

Lel Jose Miguel Silva

Pilo Agustin Silva

IFC Films presents a film written and directed by Sebastian Silva. Running time: 99 minutes. No MPAA rating (contains nudity). In English and Spanish, with English subtitles. Opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre.

Updated: August 20, 2013 6:05AM

Chilean writer-director Sebastian Silva re-creates a youthful road trip with a head trip at the end in “Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus,” more character sketch than psychedelic sojourn. Drawing on a personal experience at age 20, Silva casts his own brothers to play three brothers helping two American tripsters in Chile. That couple’s chemistry is less sparkly than what transpires in their synapses.

Silva introduces Jamie (Michael Cera) as a judgmental jerk. At a party he criticizes the local cocaine and marijuana, and smirks at an uninhibited dancer. “You’re the first American I’ve met here,” he shouts over the music to Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann). “Listen to me, you’re embarrassing yourself.” She counters: “We’re all one self, man, one great consciousness.” This New Ager will later dispense pebbles to open up his chakras. Her concerns — besides toxic sugar and chamomile therapy — include the epochal year 2012 in the Mayan calendar.

The “cactus” in the title is “magical” because it is hallucinogenic. Jamie invites Crystal Fairy to join a quest for the San Pedro variety and extract its mind-altering mescaline, also found in peyote cactus. Jamie urges her to read “The Doors of Perception,” Aldous Huxley’s 1954 book about his transcendental dose. Silva never simulates what his trippers see. But we do hear how the cactus brew affects Jamie’s hearing.

As a naked Crystal Fairy spells out her name with seashells and chants over a dead rabbit, Jamie frolics in the ocean surf with “the boys,” as she calls their Chilean companions. Instead of ’60s psychedelic rock, Silva picks a 1967 Henry Mancini number from “Two for the Road” with the lyrics: “If you’re feeling fancy free, come wander through the world with me.”

Jamie experiences stranger things en route to his cactus high. On a roadside stop, he hears a blast of dissonant orchestral music come from nowhere. At a motel, a “creepy” figurine cues a shock shot: one frame of a ghoul face. Only Jamie sees this flickering apparition, accompanied by horror movie music. Neither incident, however, says anything about this tourist. Around a campfire Crystal Fairy reveals a bit of her backstory. Silva is as superficial as his characters. Jamie tells Crystal Fairy, “You’re such a character. I love you.”

For two earlier films, Silva foregrounded the main characters in his titles. “Nonna’s Voyage” was about a woman on a fake trip to Italy, facilitated by a pill; “The Maid” was based on his family’s live-in help. “Crystal Fairy” suggests his own cactus trip was just a lark. His fictional Americans inspire no transcultural commentary.

Cera obnoxiously played actor “Michael Cera” as an excessive drug user in “This Is the End,” a recent celeb sendup that ended very badly for him and his L.A. pals. You might like his dislikable character in “Crystal Fairy.” Cera was far sweeter in “Juno” and “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist,” roles this self-deprecator likes self-deconstructing.

Bill Stamets is a Chicago free-lance writer and reviewer.

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