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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Released: 1998

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 1 hr 59 min

MPAA Rating: R

Director: Terry Gilliam

Starring: Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci

Hunter S. Thompson’s savage journey to the heart of the American Dream is brought to the screen by Terry Gilliam. With Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro.

"Fear and Loathing" - Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride.

Review by: MiamiMovieCritic

Added: 8 years ago

I thought Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassas was supposed to come out last week. According to Wikipedia, its "projected theatrical release date is June 6, 2009." That's last Saturday, which doesn't make much sense in retrospect. Anyway, when it didn't open, I needed my Gilliam fix. So I decided to revisit Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

I hadn't seen it in years, but I remembered liking it. It's one of those movies where half the people get up and walk out of the room, while the other half stay glued to their seats. The first 40 minutes are a lot of fun, but then things turn sour. I think that's a good metaphor for heavy drug use: Fun at first, then no fun at all.

Johhny Depp is ideally cast in the role of Raoul Duke, the hero of Hunter S. Thompson's 1971 cult novel. Ostensibly in town to cover the Mint 500 motorcycle race, Duke spends most of his time hiding out in hotel rooms on the Las Vegas strip and taking copious amounts of recreational drugs, like LSD and mescaline. Along for the ride is Dr. Gonzo, Duke's "rotten attorney," played by a bloated version of Benicio del Toro.

Drugs are all there is to this movie; they dictate both style and content. The motorcycle race is reduced to a single sequence, which Gilliam films like a Mad Max movie. The rest is all about what drugs Duke and Gonzo are on, what effects the drugs are having, and which crazy person they're with. Part of the fun of Fear and Loathing is all the cameo appearances. Here's Tobey Maguire in a fright wig! There's Penn Gillette as a carnie! Did Lyle Lovett just ask me if I wanted some LSD? Why is Christina Ricci painting portraits of Barbara Streisand?!?

Like every Terry Gilliam movie, Fear and Loathing is a wondrous technical achievement, at once beautiful and ugly to look at. Certainly it's the most realistic drug film since Roger Corman dropped acid and directed The Trip (1967). It's also entirely hilarious. At one point, Gonzo spills a salt shaker filled with coke and says, "Jesus! Did you see what God just did to us man?" There's also an amazing, make-you-throw-up-from-laughing scene in which Depp has an orange towel around his head and Del Toro is faking his own death in the background. The film is a comedy, but you can't accuse Gilliam of glorifying this lifestyle, not when he includes a money shot of vomit splattering a toilet bowl.

It's great to see this director working in a non-fantastical realm, applying his bag of tricks to the freak show that is Las Vegas. As Raoul Duke says, "It's the American dream come true, pure Horatio Alger."