"Crystal Fairy" is an amusing booze-and-drug-fueled road trip, its travelers on a quest to experience the Holy Grail of highs.

Starring Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffmann and a trio of irresistibly charming Chilean brothers, the search for a slice of the famed San Pedro cactus with legendary hallucinogenic powers takes us through northern Chile's corner of the Atacama Desert. Scenic, short and slight, the film manages to avoid the tendency to make these sort of big-screen excursions more tedious than actual road trips.

As noble as the desire to achieve the perfect altered state may be, it makes for a looser-knit comic fable than we are used to from Sebastian Silva, the Chilean writer-director who crafted class differences into such sharply observed subversive pleasure in 2009's "The Maid."

Though Cera and Hoffmann have the featured roles, Silva has made "Crystal Fairy" very much a family affair, casting three of his brothers to fill out the Chilean part of the equation. Champa (Juan Andres Silva), the eldest, has been recruited by his drug-loving, international backpacking friend, Jamie (Cera), to make the trip with him. Lel (Jose Miguel Silva) and Pilo (Agustin Silva) are more than happy to go along for the ride.

Fittingly, it begins the night before with a party. Jammed with Champa's friends, it has music to dance to, an unlimited supply of alcohol and some of the finest coke that Jamie has snorted. There is also a wild American child wearing hippie rags, hoping for universal harmony and calling herself Crystal Fairy (Hoffmann).


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In Jamie's drugged-out state, he invites her to join them on the road. But a morning-after conference nixes that idea and the guys hit the road with a promise to look for Crystal at a pit stop along the way.

Sebastian Silva is always good with the details of human dynamics. As free-floating an exercise as this film is, the dialogue still carries a knowing insight. He's devised more of a clash of personality than culture in "Crystal," though language and customs do play a role.

Cera is terribly unlikable here. That's a compliment. His attempts to move beyond the sweet nerd roles that defined his early work are a welcome change. Just as we've grown weary of Jamie, Crystal Fairy re-enters the film bringing new sources of conflict all rolled into a mostly naked bundle of complications. Hoffmann is fearless in baring all to create this free spirit.

The town where they run into Crystal again also means they're in prime San Pedro growing area. The search gets serious, and Jamie's obsession to get a precious piece of Pedro becomes a good comic break from the road.

Whether the San Pedro does its magic is of course the big question. Regardless, Silva works his, delivering not exactly the Holy Grail of road movies, but a very mellow summer high.

'CRYSTAL FAIRY'

* * *

Rating: Not rated
Cast: Michael Cera and
Gaby Hoffmann
Director: Sebastian Silva
Running time: 1 hour,
40 minutes. In English and Spanish with subtitles