"Like Thomspon himself, this movie doesn't know when to quit"
On some level, all of Terry Gilliam’s post-Monty Pyton films are about the battle between fantasy and reality. Whether it be time-traveling dwarf thieves in Time Bandits, a shock jock seeking redemption in The Fisher King or a post-apocalyptic society trying to regain control in 12 Monkeys, Gilliam’s film exist on a plane somewhere between lucid dream and surreal reality.Which makes him the perfect director to serve as tour guide on a vivid trip through Hunter S. Thompson’s drug-hazed recollections.
When Gilliam manages to blend his surreal visual flair with that of Hunter S. Thompson’s words (via Johnny Depp’s dead-on narration), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas captures the soul of what was thought to be an unfilmable novel. But what Gilliam fails to capture is the way Thompson’s prose detailed and explored a very distinct time in American history and culture.
Instead, the film is a two-hour acid trip that eventually wears out its welcome with a non-stop barrage of frantic yet misdirected energy.
With a suitcase full of virtually every drug known to man, Thompson (under the alias Raoul Duke) and his lawyer/drug pal Dr. Gonzo (Benecio del Toro) are on their way to Las Vegas, ostensibly to cover a motorcycle race called the Mint 400. What the trip ends up being is a weekend long drug binge full of colorful characters and hallucinogenic experiences.
With desert bats attacking their car and a hotel lounge full of giant lizards swilling booze, Gilliam briefly realizes the neon-glared, delusional madness of Thompson, providing an acid trip free of flashbacks or the hypocrisy or telling kids to say no to do drugs.
But after a night on the town and enough illegal substances to kill a horse, the moderately likable protagonists start to wear out their welcome. Unfortunately, the movie still has an hour to go. What follows is another night of the same as Duke and Dr. Gonzo are called back to Vegas to cover a convention of law enforcement officials. Though the mere idea of the stoned out of their gourds duo sitting in on a law enforcement convention on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs is funny, the drugged out paranoia and violent, reckless behavior of these goofs grows tiresome.
The one thing that continues to compel is Depp’s unbelievable transformation into Thompson. Depp spent months with the writer picking up his speech patterns and mannerisms, he even borrowed Thompson’s car and clothes to get a feel for the character. His comic delivery is impeccably timed and perfectly executed, his movements meticulously precise.Depp’s uncanny performance aside, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas ends up like a night spent with an old drinking buddy. At first watching them get hammered and make an ass of themselves is funny, but after awhile you tire of their obnoxious buffoonery and wish they’d just pass out or, in this case, roll the credits.