Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas

1998, Movie, R, 128 mins

Review

FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS
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What a strange, occasionally magnificent folly is Terry Gilliam's film of Hunter S. Thompson's mind-altering-substance-fueled kaddish for the '60s. By turns mordantly funny, horribly tedious and indulgent of the worst sort of self-indulgence, this astonishingly faithful adaptation of Thompson's account of three days of drug-crazed degeneracy in 1971 Las Vegas is both defiantly out of step with current times and obstinately hard to surrender to: The sound is mixed into a numbing jumble of words and sheer noise, the killer soundtrack is muffled, and every glorious, candy-colored image is undermined by some scorched-earth shot of just-plain hideousness. Johnny Depp plays Thompson's alter ego Raoul Duke, who's sent to Vegas to cover a penny-ante dirt-bike race and, egged-on by partner in crime Dr. Gonzo (Benecio Del Toro, packing an astonishing layer of blubber gained especially for the role), uses the opportunity to live on reds and cocaine (hold the vitamin C), trash hotel rooms and generally behave as badly as can be. Depp's performance is saved from being merely an astonishing feat of mimicry -- he has Thompson's look and mannered speech down cold -- by his sneaky sense of physical comedy: Depp does positively Chaplin-esque things with Thompson's trademark cigarette holder (when he's surprised, as he often is, it springs to cartoon-like, exclamation-mark alert) and his ether-induced stagger should win him instant admission into the Ministry of Silly Walks. From the outset, Gilliam brilliantly uses Thompson's drug-induced state to establish the notion that there's no line between voice-over and ordinary speech: Thompson never knows whether he's thinking or saying things out loud. That clears the way for Depp to talk constantly, and the sporadic brilliance of Thompson's jaundiced observations occasionally shines through the self-serving, gonzo posturing. A peculiar and oddly haunting achievement. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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