FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS
This film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas comes from Terry Gilliam. Terry Gilliam, a former member of the Monty Python troupe, has become one of the most idiosyncratic genre directors with the likes of Jabberwocky (1997), Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989), The Fisher King (1991), Twelve Monkeys (1995), The Brothers Grimm (2005), Tideland (2005), The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), The Zero Theorem (2013) and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018). Gilliams work has a dark, acerbic and frequently pessimistic bite and often takes hallucinatory flight in a way that could be seen to approximate the surrealistic flow of Hunter S. Thompsons writing. If there was anyone who could pull off an adaptation of Thompsons almost unfilmable book it would almost certainly be Terry Gilliam. (On script, Gilliam has a co-writing hand from Alex Cox, director of the exceedingly gonzo Repo Man (1984), who was the original director of the film before being removed after creative differences with Hunter S. Thompson and replaced by Gilliam. Coxs co-writing credit is a source of bitter dispute to Gilliam who claims that none of Coxs material exists in the finished film).
Alas, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is one of the few Terry Gilliams films that could be said to be a flop. The public hated it at least in its initial release, although Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has since gained a cult afterlife in dvd release. And in truth, its not very good. Terry Gilliams earlier works are often self-indulgent in their excesses. His best films are The Fisher King and Twelve Monkeys, which constrain his imagination inside superbly tight, character-driven scripts. Gilliam lacks that here and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is almost entirely 120 minutes of over-the-top indulgence. The film is at least accurate in capturing the surreal, paranoiac drug haze of Hunter S. Thompsons writing. (Indeed, the film is surprisingly faithful to the rambling and picaresque details of Thompsons book).
The film is filled with all manner of tripped-out visions a casino bar where the flower patterns on the floor animate and start moving, where the patrons are literally lounge lizards and the concierges face distorts into a giant foot-wide smile. There is a totally whacked-out sequence with Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro staggering all over a casino on ether where the room transforms into a giant grotesque carnival, where the bar becomes a merry-go-round and the KKK hold exhibit booths. A substantial part of the film is shot through a fisheye lens. Johnny Depp, his hair shaven to create a Thompson-esque bald patch, gives an exceedingly whacked-out performance that seems to almost entirely consist of owlish double-takes. It is amazing that a film as outlandish as this and, moreover, one that celebrates drug use ever managed to get a mainstream release, let alone financing, in Hollywood. Surprisingly, there are odd points it stops dead and turns serious like one moment where Johnny Depp delivers an elegiac, even sentimental, soliloquy for the end of the 1960s Free Love Generation. Eventually though, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas just goes on and on and on Benicio Del Toro strung-out in a bath and waving a hunting knife, Johnny Depp wandering around yelling at him through a loud hailer. About the time of Benicio Del Toro in Satanic horns and Johnny Depp in waders and a dinosaur tail wandering around a half-flooded hotel, it starts to become a little tedious.
There are an amazing number of name cameos. Aside from those listed above, Mark Harmon, Cameron Diaz, Penn Jillette, Lyle Lovett, Harry Dean Stanton and Tim Thomerson turn up, while Gary Busey makes a particularly embarrassing appearance as a gay highway patrol officer. You can even spot a pre-Austin Powers Verne Troyer in a small part as a waiter.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was later spoofed in the Johnny Depp animated film Rango (2011). Johnny Depp became a good friend of Hunter S. Thompson in the later years of his life. He also produced and played another stand in for Thompson in an adaptation of Thompsons novel The Rum Diary (2011).