Hunter S. Thompson's 1971 book Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas: A Savage Journey To The Heart Of The American Dream carries with it so much cultural (or counter-cultural) baggage that to make it into a film seems almost folly. Why bother, when no movie can accurately capture Thompson's inspired and incensed prose, right? Who better, then, to trip over the landmarks of history than Terry Gilliam (Brazil, 12 Monkeys), a director who frequently ignores common sense to follow his muse? Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas is remarkably faithful to Thompson's text, and Johnny Depp (as Thompson's alter-ego Raoul Duke) and Benicio del Toro (who gained 50 pounds to play the Samoan lawyer Dr. Gonzo) do an amazing job capturing the paranoid lunacy of life under the influence. But the film also poses a unique, slightly paradoxical conundrum: Fans of the book may be disappointed to see Thompson's vision of a cultural apocalypse corrupted, however so slightly, for mass consumption, while those who don't like Thompson's book will not be swayed by this hallucinogenic, vomit-encrusted, plotless dervish of a film. The movie's premise, of course, is that Depp/Thompson is sent to Las Vegas for the ostensible purpose of covering the Mint 400 off-road race, but instead ingests every form of pharmaceutical known to man and fights the good fight against an enemy less tangible than Don Quixote's windmills. Gilliam captures the chaotic visions of debauchery with his trademark aplomb, bringing to life the already trippy patterns of hotel carpets and populating the dark bars of Vegas with genuinely reptilian lounge lizards. The camera is constantly in motion, and every corner of the frame is clogged with a cameo (including Thompson himself) or some horrific vision. Unlike the 1980 Bill Murray flop Where The Buffalo Roam, which didn't come close to matching the spirit of Thompson's writing, Fear And Loathing hits dead-on, and the results are both scary and oddly hypnotic. About halfway through the film, as their antics grow more caustic and disturbing, the appeal of watching two crazed drug fiends begins to wear off. But it was bound to be hit-or-miss, and Gilliam's refusal to compromise is a loud, sloppy raspberry directed at the same people Thompson railed against 25 years ago.
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