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IN SHORT: Great Soundtrack. Dreadful Flick.
There is no director, living or dead, whose films occupy more laserdisk shelf space in my home than Terry Gilliam. I cannot tell you how high my expectations were for this flick. I cannot properly express the depth of my disappointment. But I'll try.
I've interviewed Terry Gilliam a couple of times. The man has never taken acid. Neither has Cranky, for that matter, but if ever an acid (or any other kind of hallucinogen) trip onscreen was envisaged, it is surely Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which is brimming with insanity, paranoia, incredibly funny asides and generally boorish behaviour. If any anti-drug crusader out in medialand could dream of a more potent anti-drug taking message, well, he must've been taking drugs to dream of it. Fear and Loathing will shut down any such notion. The problem is, I don't think anyone who has never been exposed to drugs will understand what's going on in the story. It's been more than a decade since Cranky picked up a bong, but even wallowing in that fond nostalgia, and singing along with the terrific soundtrack, was not enough to make Fear and Loathing any more palatable.
For those of you that don't (and shouldn't) know, ingest any illegal substance and the routine is the same. Swallow. Get High. Feel the Rush. Crash. When the Rush hits, it goes something like this:
Between Zero and One are a hundred cents worth of numbers and each one of 'em is stacked end to end in a large circle of pointlessness that is the perfect transmogrification of the must reed, sorry read, Hunter S. Thompson (aka Duke aka Raoul Duke aka Johnny Depp in a terrifyingly accurate depiction of the public image of the man who likes to literally shoot at mountains with his trusty and always at his side .357 magnum revolver) novel "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" which Cranky read and enjoyed as a collegiate youth although he was sucking down massive bong hits all the time back in those days and doesn't remember much more than he read and enjoyed "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" the novel to which he will make no comparison because the film is the book and like Bill Murray attempt at doing Thompson before him Johnny Depp needs golf shoes to get out of the blood like muck on the floor of the lizard filled Las Vegas lounge he's acid tripping in and he can't get the shoes and he's stuck like you will be for two hours as you sit through this dreadful morass of movie making which loses you after about fifteen minutes and then leaves you sitting in your seat wondering when the movie is going to get going until the credits roll up the sole highway out of town and you realize that you've laid out a whole lot of bucks on tickets and popcorn and soda for nothing.
And the Crash goes like this: A. Whole. Lot. Of. Bucks. For. Nothing. Same as taking drugs.
A story of the death of the 60s and dread of the 70s that may have been buried inside of Thompson's book is drowned under the weight of four writers pasting bits and pieces of said book into a movie script. Visually, Fear and Loathing features the same stupendous kind of work we've seen in Terry Gilliam's earlier works (12 Monkeys, Fisher King, Brazil). More than a dozen star cameos (Flea to Gary Busey to Cameron Diaz and Penn Jillette) stud the two hours or so running time of the film, but the occasional surprise is not enough to save the day. The bright lights of Vegas and occasionally funny bits deliberately and sharply slam to a halt as the film reaches its end.
Reality is just another word to the sports journalist Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp), assigned to cover the "$50,000 Mint 400 Desert Race" in Las Vegas. With his attorney, "Dr. Gonzo" (Benecio del Toro), at his side, Duke heads for Vegas in a cherry red Cadillac convertible, satchel full of drugs at his side. Somewhere near the edge of Barstow, the drugs begin to take hold. The inventory reads like a shopping list: Coke. Acid. Mescaline. Ether ("the perfect drug for Las Vegas"). Poppers to maintain. People turn into lizards. Patterns flow from the hotel carpets up the wallpapered halls. Then it's a different car, a different hotel, and a different assignment -- covering a convention of narcotics law enforcement officers. It is only here that the paranoia and comedy come blissfully together. But it's taken a long time to get here and the funny stuff dries up fast as more potent drugs yield a blackout, a shrine to Debbie Reynolds, a desperate attempt to put the missing pieces together, a very unpleasant number of minutes while Gonzo threatens a waitress (Ellen Barkin) and a merciful roll of the end credits.
With a cigarette holder clenched between his teeth, Duke narrates the entire proceedings which move from Beverly Hills to Vegas hotels to diner dives on the outskirts of town. Occasional brilliant and hysterically funny observations like "Vegas is not a good town for psychedelic drugs" are few and far between. Fear and Loathing gets real tired, real fast.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, he would have paid . . .
Film students can discuss what meaning may be behind what's on screen. Damn thing is, this is probably as close to a "true" interpretation of Thompson as you can get. 1980's Where The Buffalo Roam (with Bill Murray as Thompson) didn't translate from the printed page, and neither does Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Cranky's expectations were not met by this production. Pass it by.
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