Emma the Buffy Slayer

Critics will occasionally gush about an actor's "brave" performance, but former Buffy the Vampire Slayer regular Emma Caulfield's participation in the brilliant new mockumentary Bandwagon is absolutely foolhardy on a number of levels.

In this picture, Caulfield portrays herself as an actress who has been adrift since her show went off the air. She admits to being perilously close to 30 and expounds through gritted teeth about all the roles she's been losing recently to younger actresses. With no clock to punch, she fills her days with lunches at trendy eateries; long sessions with her personal trainer to work off the lunches; and her endless, self-righteous efforts to Make the World a Better Place by throwing herself into whatever cause has caught her fancy that week.

When conservatives make their snide remarks about Hollywood's "limousine liberals," they are imagining people like the Caulfield we see here: a pretty girl who is vastly less intelligent than she thinks and who noisily makes her opinions public out of a mix of arrogance, misguided idealism, and the desire to get a little attention and hopefully prop up her own sagging career. Caulfield is shown harassing her former Buffy bosses for professional favors; she has a few tellingly curt remarks about notoriously prickly but highly bankable Buffy leading lady Sarah Michelle Gellar; she cluelessly endangers a bunch of cute little birds; and she says and does some things that will really piss off advocates for the mentally challenged.

Is Caulfield determined to never work in Hollywood again?

Following a few years in a supporting role on a terrific but Nielsen-challenged genre series and the starring part in the schlocky thriller Darkness Falls, Caulfield's career is at a major crossroads, and now would be a very good time for her to play it safe as somebody's girlfriend in a couple of big-budget, by-the-numbers action pictures. But instead she shows up in this tiny, scathing Hollywood satire and allows herself to appear as an aging, neurotic, pushy bimbo who is teetering on the very brink of has-been-hood. It's as if she's set out to violate every unwritten Hollywood law she can, without giving a good goddamn how unattractive it makes her to future casting directors.

Say what you will about what courage it took for Charlize Theron to gain 30 pounds, slap on some facial prosthetics and pop in some joke-shop teeth for Monster; with Bandwagon, Caulfield has taken a real risk, and it has richly paid off in what may be the most cringingly hilarious mockumentary since This is Spinal Tap.

Bandwagon screens at the Regency Lido, Newport Beach, (949) 253-2880; newportbeachfilmfest.com. Fri., 5:30 p.m. $10.


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