At the helm of her first feature, actress Heather Graham conjures a fizzy comedy with a satiric edge. Sending up Hollywood sexism for all its blunt absurdity, “Half Magic” gets off to a promisingly giddy start.
The Time’s Up timeliness couldn’t be more perfect. And any film that casts Johnny Knoxville as a priest has its irreverent heart in the right place. But as the writer-director’s sly gaze shifts into an insistently upbeat appeal for female empowerment, the movie loses its comic steam.
Knoxville cameos as one of the looming figures who instilled Catholic guilt and sexual shame in Honey (Graham) when she was a child. In the present day, she’s an aspiring screenwriter and belittled “d-girl” to a star-producer (Chris D’Elia). His aggressively stupid swagger matches the video-game misogyny of his movies, and he nixes Honey’s screenplay ideas with a vengeance.
Just when it seems the film might dig deeper into the ways the dream machine revolves around the wet dreams of adolescent boys, Graham turns her attention to conventional rom-com territory, with a dash of self-esteem sorcery. Inspired by a workshop in divine femininity, Honey and two friends (Angela Kinsey and Stephanie Beatriz) form a coven of sorts, lighting candles to release their New Age affirmations into the universe. Sometimes they backslide, drunk dialing their exes.
Their gushing girlie energy is in sync with the candy-bright visuals. There’s charm and smarts to the healthy positivity, but without the balancing sting of the earlier sections, the intended abracadabra goes up in smoke.
Rating: R, for strong sexual content, nudity, language and drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: Vintage Los Feliz 3, Los Angeles