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POSITIVE REVIEWS :)
Kandee Nelson, 1998 (beniciodeltoro.com)
In the 1998 screen adaption of Hunter S. Thompson's now classic novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey Into the Heart of the American Dream Terry Gilliam directs Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro in what may be the most daring roles of their careers. They portray "Raoul Duke" and "Dr. Gonzo" respectively, the alter egos of writer Hunter S. Thompson and his attorney and friend Oscar "Zeta" Acosta in the subversive and acridly funny account of their full-tilt, chemically liberated road trips to Vegas on various press assignments driving a huge red convertible dubbed "The Great Red Shark" and carrying an arsonal of drugs in the trunk. Both actors prepared obsessively and are gifted physical performers. In the lead role, Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands, Benny & Joon) sporting a shaved head and devices to make his ears protrude, clenching Thompson's emblematic cigarette holder in his teeth delivers a canny dead on amalgamation of both Hunter and Duke in a trippy yet detailed performance both onscreen and in voice over narration faithfully taken straight from the book. Benicio Del Toro almost supernaturally shape-shifts into the character of Dr. Gonzo surrendering his sultry graces and gaining some 40 odd pounds, growing a mass of long hair and a formidable mustache, he is a maelstrom of infernal energies. It is he (Gonzo) who savagely pursues the limits of freedom enticing his blood brother Duke into going "higher" and then some. The two have a tremendous rapport alternatively placating each other and pushing each other to the limits. Nearly every scene in the film has been carefully depicted out of loyalty to the author. But it is between the lines of the book and the movie that the real drama lies. It is the year 1971. Nixon is in the White House and the Vietnam war is still going on. The utopian aspirations and chaotic reverie of the late 1960's has dissolved into a pervasive cynicism and growing uncertainty.The American Dream is dying and in confronting their anger and disbelief Thompson and Acosta set out against this apostasy like a pair of paroled saboteurs attending the funeral of a friend with the intention of setting the mourners on fire. The desert haven of Las Vegas serves as the perfect backdrop for the surrealistic "wake". Director Gilliam captures all the stranded energy and glittery funk of the old Las Vegas with his trademark visual style. There are many wonderful cameos in the film: Ellen Barkin, Christina Ricci, Gary Busey, Toby Maguire and Craig Bierko are among the most memorable. Definitely check out the soundtrack as well, it contains some of the key dialogue along with the films great tunes.
|Tim Richards, 1998 (Festival Online Magazine)|
"We were somewhere on the edge of the desert when the drugs took hold," explains the stoned and wild-eyed journalist Raoul Duke. He speeds along like an out-of-control missile in the opening to FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, which is based on the famous semi-autobiographical novel by Hunter Thompson about his gonzo journalism. Set in a stoned-out 1971, the movie's central character, Raoul, and his sidekick and attorney, Dr. Gonzo, spend the entire picture ripped, stoned, plastered, wasted, you name it. With a cornucopia of drugs in the trunk of their rented Cadillac convertible, they are on their way to Las Vegas, where they will cover the national convention of District Attorneys, among other things. Mainly they are going so they can party using every illegal substance you've ever heard of and some you haven't. As directed by the wildly imaginative Terry Gilliam from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, BRAZIL, THE FISHER KING and TWELVE MONKEYS, the comedy starts off so ridiculously that you can expect many people to walk out in disgust. The remarkably talented Johnny Depp plays the lead, Raoul. To his credit, Depp takes what starts as an almost unwatchably bad movie and manages to make it kind of fascinating. With arms waving at imagined terrors, with feet and legs wobbling so he can barely walk without falling, and with a voice that sounds like it's coming from the bottom of a well, he looks so convincingly drugged out of his mind that you'll want to help him into treatment. When he walks, he darts from wall to wall due to his drug-induced paranoia. You see, he has killer bats chasing him. Depp's performance is so over the top and mesmerizing that he manages to make you care about a highly unsympathetic character. Benicio Del Toro takes a more by the numbers approach to the part of Dr. Gonzo. He mumbles so many of his lines that he makes his character believable but rarely interesting. A host of actors appear in cameo roles. Gary Busey plays a macho policeman who chases the speeding and stoned Raoul. The policeman is an understanding sort, who orders Raoul to get some rest and asks only for a little kiss in return. Christina Ricci plays a teenager who paints large oil portraits of Barbra Streisand while watching her on television. Raoul and Dr. Gonzo have nightmares about her naming them in a statutory rape trial. In one of the film's best scenes, Raoul's drugged brain morphs a bar of conventioneers into a group of alien monsters like those in the bar scene in STAR WARS. In another scene, the pattern in the carpet starts to move and eventually turns to flowing blood. The special effects in the movie are inventive and the psychedelic colors of the sets by THE CROW's Alex McDowell are eye-catching. And when the movie gets utterly absurd, as it frequently does, at least the audience is entertained by some great music of the late 60s and early 70s. Describing a film directed by Terry Gilliam as "astounding" is redundant - Gilliam is an acknowledged master of the medium who pushes the visual possibilities as far as they can go. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas is another excellent movie from this director.Fear And Loathing is the screen adaptation of the 1971 novel by Hunter S Thompson, the self-professed founder of "gonzo journalism"... a fast, furious and over-exaggerated writing style that became famous in the pages of Rolling Stone magazine. In loosely autobiographical style, it tells the story of a chaotic drug-laden visit to Las Vegas by Thompson's alter-ego Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and his unconventional attorney Doctor Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro). Tearing through the desert in a huge red convertible under the influence of a mind-boggling array of mind-altering drugs, Duke and his sidekick ostensibly cover a desert motorbike race and a national narcotics conference, but in fact spend most of their time in a drugged haze, trashing hotel rooms and going right over the edge in every way possible. This story is the perfect material for a visually-oriented director like Gilliam; he takes its hallucinations, paranoia, weird perspectives and black humour and twists them as far as he can. From the opening shot, the viewer is given no chance to orientate himself to the real world... we are trapped within the characters' distorted frame of reference, speeding through the film at dizzying speed. This may all sound quite boring and disgusting, but the sheer inventiveness of the direction and the electrically good-humoured performances by Depp and Del Toro make it a wicked delight. There are repulsive moments that won't please every viewer, but the overall spectacle of the gonzo journalist and his companion tearing up the scenery in their impossible quest to find the true heart of America is a dazzlingly fresh piece of film-making. See it for its "end of an era" connotations or its over-the-top abandon that makes Edina and Patsy look like schoolgirls in comparison... just see it.
Carol Cling, 1998 (Review-Journal)
In the beginning -- the beginning of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream," that is -- gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson was waiting for the drugs to kick in. Somewhere around Barstow, Calif., they did. But that was 1971. This is 1997. And me, I'm waiting for the next hit of air conditioning. Every so often, a tantalizing blast of cool air escapes -- whenever the doors to the Stardust casino open, discharging more tourists who squeeze in along the porte-cochere sidewalk, between the valet parking stand and the taxi line. Like me, they're also waiting for "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" -- the movie, which is scheduled to start location shooting this stifling, muggy Sunday night. ("Fear and Loathing" is expected to be on location here for at least another week.) Some people have been waiting 25 years for this momentous occasion. Some people have been waiting 25 minutes. And some people aren't quite sure what they're waiting for. But they've spotted a sign inside the casino that reads, "NOTICE: We are filming in this area. If you are in view of the cameras, we will consider this your permission to be filmed." So they head outside to see more, including a giant clown's head set up at the casino entrance: a demented Bozo look-alike with a flashing red nose and bloodshot eyes spinning out of control. Red light bulbs form its frizzy hair; bright white bulbs outline its pointy teeth. Death's-head clown statues with demonic grins and demented eyes stand guard nearby. Across the traffic lanes under the porte-cochere, there's a statue of a snarling gorilla looking like an escapee from the Circus Circus menagerie just up the Strip. In a way, it is. Back in 1971, when Thompson wrote "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," he and his faithful traveling companion Oscar Zeta Acosta shared some particularly crazed adventures at Circus Circus. In the movie version, however, a fictional casino called the Bazooka Palace will stand in for Circus Circus. And tonight, the Stardust is playing the role of the Bazooka. But while the movie's crew sets up the first shot of the night, the Stardust's real life continues. Taxis discharge passengers. Bellhops juggle luggage. Airport shuttles make their rounds. Parking valets direct traffic. And a white Cadillac pulls up and waits. Could this be the fabled White Whale that serves as Thompson and Acosta's Vegas chariot? (That is, after they dumped their rented Chevy, better known as the Great Red Shark.) No, this white Cadillac has personalized California license plates of a far more recent vintage. Besides, its taillights don't even suggest the possibility of vestigial fins. But a '70s-leftover gold Plymouth Valiant with a decrepit white vinyl top and crunched left headlight? Now we're getting somewhere. Maybe even somewhere close to the start of shooting. We must be. Some crew members screw new light bulbs into the faux Bozo's fiery red fringe. Others explain proper set etiquette to the throng of bystanders. "Do not take any flash photos -- in fact do not take any photos at all, because they'll ruin the shot," one production assistant lectures solemnly. "And no videotaping." Several minutes later, another pleads with the crowd to move further away from the action. "It would really, really help us a lot if you could move over there on that grassy patch," he pleads. "Move down, all the way down." Onlookers dutifully shuffle a few feet south, then inch back to their original positions as soon as he turns away. "Where's Johnny Depp?" one observer wonders. After all, they can't start without him -- because Johnny Depp is playing Thompson. Or, more precisely, Raoul Duke, the alias Thompson uses while he and Acosta scam their way from Glitter Gulch to the Strip in search of "Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas." Could that be Depp in the tan polyester jacket and flared pants and silvery cowboy boots? The wild-eyed, wild-haired man with the moustache? No, but it could be Benicio Del Toro, who's playing Dr. Gonzo, alias Oscar Acosta. Granted, the tall, thin Del Toro's Acosta doesn't look much like the 300-pound Samoan madman Thompson describes. Then again, the delicate-featured Depp seems a bit of a stretch as Thompson. Yet there he is, decked out in a brown camouflage fishing hat and multicolored patchwork jacket -- both of which clash deliriously with his black-and-gold checked pants, and white tennis shoes. Moving next to Depp, Del Toro hands him what looks like a folded American flag. Depp places it to his nose and inhales deeply. It must be ether time. "Ah, devil ether -- a total body drug," Thompson writes. "The mind recoils in horror, unable to communicate with the spinal column. The hands flap crazily, unable to get money out of the pocket ..." Obviously, they're rehearsing that magical moment when Thompson and Acosta first arrive at Circus Circus -- oops, the Bazooka Palace. Casino lights pulsating all around them, Depp and Del Toro stagger toward the giant clown's open mouth in slow motion, their body language reflecting the insidious effects of what Thompson calls "the perfect drug for Las Vegas." The beat-up gold Valiant pulls up, prompting a clown-faced parking valet -- attired in Day-Glo orange and green, a mod orange beret perched atop his blond corkscrew curls -- to assist a costumed extra wearing an orange shift minidress and white go-go boots. (Not that go-go boots were still in style in 1971, but Vegas tourists are notorious for being hopelessly behind the fashion curve.) To complete the surrealistic scene, speakers pump out a little circus mood music, from the "Rocky and Bullwinkle" theme to Leon Russell's "Tightrope." In character, Depp and Del Toro try out their slow-motion, under-the-influence-of-ether approach, then swiftly turn and join director Terry Gilliam in the shadow of the snarling gorilla. In 1971, when Thompson and Acosta were fearing and loathing in Las Vegas, Gilliam was the sole American member of the soon-to-be-legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python's Flying Circus, creating wildly imaginative animated sequences for their television show. All these years later, he's making the movie many others tried -- and failed -- to get off the ground. (Martin Scorsese and Jack Nicholson, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi are among those whose "Fear and Loathing" adaptations crashed and burned.) Now, fledgling Rhino Films has succeeded in launching "Fear and Loathing" at a reported budget of about $21 million. But it was a rocky takeoff, with Gilliam replacing writer-director Alex Cox -- and his script -- only a few months ago before shooting began. Universal Pictures is expected to release "Fear and Loathing" at the start of the annual summer blockbuster frenzy next May. "This could be a very big film -- possibly the most successful counterculture movie of all time," Rhino Films head Stephen Nemeth predicts in a telephone interview. "The stamp of a major studio is acknowledging that we're onto something." Exactly what they're onto won't be known for many months. But what they're up to on this first night of shooting is easy to see: more of same, as Depp, Del Toro and Gilliam regroup after each take to further refine the scene. During the discussions, Del Toro beats on his chest like an amateur King Kong. Gilliam grabs the gorilla's lower jaw, demonstrating a move to Depp. Gilliam jogs in place, then jumps as if his legs were on springs. Depp jogs in place as Del Toro joins him for another make-believe ether inhalation. "OK, here we go -- stand by," a crew member intones as Gilliam takes his place with the camera crew facing Depp and Del Toro. The snap of a clapper board calls actors and crew members to attention. "Quiet, please -- we're rolling," the assistant director calls. "And ... action!" Gilliam and the camera crew members tiptoe backwards. Depp and Del Toro lurch forward toward the gap-mouthed clown head, Del Toro desperately grasping his trousers in a vain attempt to get his legs to work properly. "Left, Benny ... stay there. Now move on forward," Gilliam coaxes him. "Wonderful." But not according to some of the assembled observers, who weigh in with their reactions after the cry of "Cut!" signals the end of the take. "He doesn't look drunk -- he's not doing a very good job," one woman reacts to Depp's rolling, stoned slow-motion stagger. "OK, that was exciting," one Australian-accented voice drawls sarcastically as several onlookers head back inside the air-conditioned casino -- or down the sidewalk -- in search of a livelier scene. "Looks like a bunch of rejects from the '60s," one of them scoffs, stomping back into the casino. "Boring." So much for the magical glamour of movie making. Or maybe it's just Las Vegas. "A little bit of this town goes a very long way," Thompson writes. "After five days in Vegas you feel like you've been here for five years." It hasn't even been five minutes for some "Fear and Loathing" watchers. But however long it's been, it's been too long.
Blue Velvet, 1998 (Movie Magazine International)
Just before production began for the film "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," director Alex Cox parted ways with the cast and crew, leaving an intense hunt for his replacement. Who would or could take the helm of the project based on Hunter S. Thompson's way-out 1971 hallucinatory novel? Luckily the longtime original choice, Director Terry Gilliam, had no plans at the moment and stepped in to tightly fuse brilliantly absurd imagery to the book's screen adaptation. Still using the script written by Alex Cox and Tod Davies, Gilliam masterly upholds much of the story while spanning further dimension with the electrifying luxury of film medium. As the story goes, Hunter S. Thompson, under the guise of Raoul Duke, heads out from Los Angeles to Las Vegas with his Samoan Attorney, Dr. Gonzo, and a narcotically well-endowed black suitcase. Duke's writing assignment of covering the Las Vegas 1971 Mint 400 motorcycle race quickly becomes less and less important just as his quest to find the American Dream grows increasingly passionate. Duke and his attorney sniff, snort, smoke and chug down drugs to the hilt while maintaining their paranoid wit and intelligence amidst the encroaching blinking neon and the 70's splashiness of Las Vegas. Johnny Depp turns a crazy performance as the ever watchful Raoul Duke, while Benicio Del Toro as the mumbling brash Dr. Gonzo appropriately staggers around like a lost bear, shaking a shaggy head of dope and hair. Depp's Raoul narrates throughout the film, reading passages straight from the book with an air of paranoia and critical observation. While both actors deserve bravos for their performances, the underlying story coupled with Gilliam's timing and bold imagination gloriously shape the film into a brilliantly unique melange. Of course no one could surpass the one-to-one rapport between a reader and the famed novel, but the film's script follows the book, diverging only to accentuate the mood of the text. Seen with an uncritical eye, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" stands out as a flippingly free trip which will grace midnight showings for decades to come.
|Alex Castle, 1998 (dvd.ign.com)|
Many attempts have been made to bring this story to the big screen: Bill Murray starred in the botched HST biopic Where the Buffalo Roam, a film that led many to believe that a full-on hardcore movie of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was “unfilmable.” That is, until Hunter S. Thompson himself hand-picked Johnny Depp to play Thompson alter ego Raoul Duke, and Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliam signed on to direct Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a movie that I consider to be the best possible result of trying to film an unfilmable book. There really is no plot to speak of, other than this: Duke and his attorney alternate between roaming the streets and casinos of Las Vegas and cowering in their fully debauched hotel rooms on huge amounts of acid, mescaline, cocaine, grass, ether, and whatever they can get at the bars, with no intention whatsoever of paying for their accomodations or of doing the job they were sent to Vegas to do in the first place. “An affirmation of everything that was right in the national character-- but only for those with true grit. And we are chock full of that, man.” Depp as Duke is outstanding. He supposedly spent four months hanging out with the Doctor and even let Thompson personally shave the top of his head, to emulate Thompson’s pattern baldness. His every move and word seems as if it’s transmitted by radio signal from Thompson himself, standing just off camera. And Benicio Del Toro, as Duke’s attorney, is perfect. The guy put on 40 pounds, grew out an awful mustache and head of hair, and became the scariest bastard you would ever want to meet: “a strange mutant never considered for mass production.” The story goes from being very funny to being very scary and depressing-- much like the era whose end it dramatizes. As many times as I had read this book, I never really got what it was “about” until I saw the movie, and in particular the scene where Duke reminisces about San Francisco, 1965. It’s powerful.
|Geoff Carter, 1998 (lasvegassun.com)|
He's got the film tagged. Gilliam's gift for quirky, individual filmmaking has taken many shapes and forms: cautionary sci-fi tales ("12 Monkeys"), stories of redemption ("The Fisher King"), popcorn ("The Adventures of Baron Munchasen") and glimpses of cold parallel worlds ("Brazil"). Every film in his oeuvre shares some or all of these qualities in some measure; with "Fear and Loathing," Gilliam employs them all. The narrative is simple - your basic wild Sin City weekend, fortified with enough hard and exotic drugs to kill an entire platoon of marines - but Thompson uses it as eulogy for the sixties, the last violent, pained gasp of a decade defined by violence and pain. Halfway through the film, Depp's Thompson looks out the window of his Mint Hotel suite at the unnatural glow of Las Vegas, circa 1971, and bemoans what America had lost in the last ten years: "With the right kind of eyes, you can almost see the high-water mark - the place where the wave broke and rolled back." That's about it for coherence, however. Unless you're familiar with the source material, much of "Fear and Loathing's" acerbic dialogue will be lost on your ears. Del Toro, in particular, has one-upped his indecipherable turn in "The Usual Suspects"; he sounds as if he's drowning in an ocean of oatmeal. Depp mimics Thompson's clipped, mumbled cadence faithfully, almost too faithfully. Depp is rapidly proving to be one of the best talents of his generation. Watching him stumble through the perverse landscape of "Fear and Loathing," warding off imaginary bats, lizards and wolverines, is akin to watching Lugosi's Dracula - a new monster to be reckoned with, kinetic and unpredictable. You can't take your eyes off of him, and the fact that you can't understand half the things he's saying seems irrelevant. Half the time, Depp really has to work for it. Gilliam throws every gauntlet of which he's capable, and even pulls out a few surprises. The "Bazooko Circus" casino (a wild fantasia of Circus Circus, name changed to protect the innocent) is an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus fueled by raw ether, with such tried-and-true nightmare images as evil clowns and shadowy dwarfs, but also with enough blatant symbolism that the casino succeeds as a bulk metaphor for Thompson's America. It is ugly, it is titillating, and nobody is quite sure how it came to this pass. "What the whole hep world would be doing on Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war," surmises Depp, pitching and waving as if being shaken by an unseen occult hand. The film is, by and large, a verbatim presentation of Thompson's novel. The only liberties Gilliam takes are with the somewhat muddled second half of the original story; the director applies a conventional story structure to the episodic nature of Thompson's narrative, with rousing success. It ain't "Citizen Kane," but there's finally a perceptible climax to Thompson's convoluted moral study. The film of "Fear and Loathing" could only have happened now, as popular culture succeeds all other kinds of stimuli and America enters another round of put-up-or-shut-up. The novel was right for Thompson's time, and the film is right for this one - as native as the American Flags that pop up throughout the film, and as foreign as any of Gilliam's other worlds. If "Brazil" is the capitol of Gilliam's Psychotic State, "Fear and Loathing" is its wild, dusty border town. Beyond this point, there be lizards.
|NEGATIVE REVIEWS :(|
James Berardinelli, 1998 (movie-reviews.colossus.net)
It's too bad the title The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was already taken, because it would have been the perfect moniker for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Terry Gilliam's adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's book (emphasis on "the bad and the ugly" part). It's always a risky endeavor to fashion a motion picture based on an "unfilmable" novel -- even to try demands a director with a lion's share of chutzpah. Gilliam, the American member of the Monty Python troupe, certainly has that quality, but his efforts here have met with what can charitably be called mixed results. From time-to-time, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is darn funny, but those moments of seemingly-inspired humor are more than offset by the rest of the movie, which is nearly unwatchable. The film's plot is thin, but then the book, which is a stream-of-consciousness affair, is more interested in making pithy observations and developing a tone than in presenting a narrative. One thing Gilliam does well is to capture Thompson's style and unleash it on the screen. However, I'm not sure that's a good thing. After all, there is a reason why books are books and movies are movies, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas makes a pretty good case that the two don't always mix. Back to the storyline: Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp), who is a fictional representation of the book's protagonist, author Thompson, is headed to Las Vegas in the company of his "Samoan lawyer," Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro, looking more bloated than Robert De Niro in the closing moments of Raging Bull). The year is 1971, and Duke's ostensible reason for the journey is to cover the $50,000 Mint 400 Desert Race, but his real motivation seems to be to see how many Vegas hotel rooms he can trash and how many different concoctions of grass, cocaine, alcohol, uppers, mescaline, and acid he can imbibe. After being attacked by hallucinatory bats during the trek across the desert, the pair arrives on the strip before the end of the first reel, checks into their room, and spends the rest of the movie getting stoned and taking the audience on a bizarre visual journey that would make Oliver Stone proud. I'm sure the idea of the film is to give the viewer the sense of inhabiting Duke's shoes -- that's what all the weird angles, distorted shots, and red lighting are for. However, being in a theater watching a couple of wasted characters is not anything like being under the influence of a mind-altering drug (or so I'm told). It doesn't take long for the movie-goer to recognize all of the visual trickery as a gimmick designed to camouflage the fact that the film doesn't go anywhere: the plot is repetitious and the protagonist is a lifeless caricature. In this picture, the narrator has more lines than the characters. This is one of those rare movies when the technique of having a narrator works, primarily because every amusing or insightful comment made during the far-too-long running length is contained in the voiceover. Here's where we learn that the message behind Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is to illustrate how 1971 was a turning point in the drug culture -- the year that the innocence and empowerment of the late '60s turned rancid, leaving users burned-out and broken instead of free and flying high. As one might expect, Gilliam also takes a few corrosive shots at middle-class America. The most obvious of these occurs during the film's funniest sequence: an anti-drug "information session" attended by Duke, Gonzo, and dozens of white bread, out-of-uniform cops. Johnny Depp is the kind of actor who always seems willing to try something new. During his uneven career, he has played everything from Edward Scissorhands to Donnie Brasco. As Duke, Depp gives a wonderful physical performance with no emotional depth. He has the rubber-legged actions of his character right ("a total loss of motor skills... a loss of communication with the spinal column"), but doesn't give us any reason to care about Duke. He's like Steve Martin in The Jerk, only much, much less inspired. Meanwhile, the most impressive thing about Benicio Del Toro is how thoroughly he manages to hide his good looks beneath hair, rolls of fat, and drying bodily fluids. Christina Ricci, the excellent young actress who is continuing her quest to re-shape her image from cute to tawdry (see also The Ice Storm, and the yet-to-be-released Buffalo 66 and The Opposite of Sex), has a small role as an artist named Lucy. There are other cameos as well, including Gary Busey, Ellen Barkin, Mark Harmon, and Cameron Diaz. One criticism that has been leveled against Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is that it glorifies drug use. I'm not sure how anyone who has seen the film can make that statement, since the movie reduces chronic users to the level of barely-functional zombies awash in degeneracy. Gilliam has said that his intention was to make the film "ugly," and he has achieved that aim. Visually and viscerally, there is a connection between Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Trainspotting, albeit with two critical differences: the British picture developed real characters and didn't go on and on and on, ad nauesum, like this one. While I'm not recommending the movie to anyone interested in either (a) mainstream entertainment, or (b) something with a coherent narrative, the film has the look and feel of a picture that's destined for cult status. It's the kind of movie that plays at midnight showings during film festivals and generates a small-but-devoted legion of fans who attend conventions and boast about how many hundreds of times they've watched it. Ultimately, however, while this die-hard group will call Gilliam a genius and genuflect every time his name is mentioned, the rest of us will recall the movie version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a bad trip.
|Steve Rhodes, 1998 (flickfilosopher.com)|
Boy, I thought Trainspotting was enough to put me off drugs forever. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas puts Trainspotting to shame when it comes to exposing the glamorous drug culture: the daily vomiting, the wallowing in your own filth, the insane paranoia, the sickening hallucinations, the waking up with a lizard tail strapped to your butt. I mean, really: They shouldn't be allowed to make movies like this, or everyone will want to join the fun and exciting world of illegal narcotics abuse. Director Terry Gilliam has done a sort of about-face with Fear and Loathing. Whereas most of his films focus on a sane man in an insane world -- Bruce Willis in Twelve Monkeys, Jonathan Pryce in Brazil, Jeff Bridges in The Fisher King, the little boy in Time Bandits -- Fear and Loathing focuses on an insane man, Hunter S. Thompson, in a sane world. If you consider someone who's never not high insane. If you consider Las Vegas sane. Basically plotless and almost impossible to watch at times, Fear and Loathing follows Thompson (the always interesting Johnny Depp) and his lawyer (The Usual Suspects' Benicio Del Toro) on a psychedelic weekend romp from L.A. to Las Vegas, ostensibly for journalist Thompson to cover a motorcycle race. But mostly they spend their little holiday pumping their bodies full of increasingly bizarre intoxicants, trashing hotel rooms, threatening the help, and terrifying little girls. What the movie lacks in plot it makes up for in irony. Thompson is constantly blathering on about finding the American dream in Vegas (which is hardly less pyschotropic than Thompson's chemicals) -- ironic on two levels. One's first reaction might be that the traditional American dream -- the whole white-picket-fence thing -- is diametrically opposed to the sleaze and greed of Vegas. But after more consideration, one might stumble upon the notion -- as I did -- that Vegas truly is representative of the dream many Americans have: the something-for-nothing, quick-and-easy-money, greed-is-what-made-this-country-great path to enlightenment, with some half-naked women wearing ostrich feathers on the side, thank you very much. Look at all the fools willing to throw their money away on Powerball. But that's only the first level of irony. When Thompson and friend wander into a district attorneys' conference on drug abuse, they are treated to the usual "dope fiend" hysteria -- fed to an audience of D.A.s all puffing away on that legal narcotic, tobacco. In other words, let us not forget that your everyday, greed-is-good American is all too willing to clamp down on the bad guys' vices -- be it marijuana or cocaine or what have you -- as long as you leave his vices -- booze and cigarettes -- alone. And let's face it: Is Thompson's quick high really all that different from that of the blue-haired old lady mesmerizing by the one-armed bandit? Your Flick Filosopher -- who actually did live in a house with a white picket fence as a child -- likes it up here on her high horse. Giddyap!
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