Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas

on May 22, 1998 by Wade Major
   As grotesque a cinematic monstrosity as has ever been inflicted on audiences, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" could easily be the first major studio film in history completely devoid of any redeeming value whatsoever--cinematically, socially or otherwise.
   Adapted from the semi-autobiographical 1971 novel by legendary counterculture journalist Hunter S. Thompson, the new film from director Terry Gilliam ("12 Monkeys") is a two-hour slog through revulsion and boredom, featuring Johnny Depp as the Thompson-esque Raoul Duke and Benicio Del Toro ("Excess Baggage") as his attorney and partner in psychedelia, Dr. Gonzo (based on Thompson's friend and Chicano activist Oscar Zeta Acosta).
   After inundating themselves with narcotics and hallucinogens, the dreary duo head for Las Vegas, where they continue their debauched odyssey by trashing hotel rooms, humiliating strangers, babbling incoherently, vomiting, and desecrating just about anything and everything that crosses their path. Lest anyone accuse the filmmakers of being completely irresponsible, Depp occasionally chimes in to narrate the proceedings with one of Thompson's trademark stream-of-consciousness ramblings, presumably as a reminder to the audience that there's a lesson to be learned. Just what that lesson is supposed to be, however, is anyone's guess.
   It's little consolation that Depp, who plays Duke as a cross among Charles Bukowski, Timothy Leary and Groucho Marx, manages the role with typically chameleon-like aplomb. Everything else around him is so horribly bad that it ultimately doesn't make much difference. Del Toro's Gonzo is a noteworthy case in point, a characterization so thoroughly repugnant that it verges on the sadistic. Although most of the blame for the film's failure is likely to fall squarely on helmer and co-writer Gilliam, it's unlikely that anyone else would have been able to fare much better, given the same material. An amorphous blob of disjointed scenes and spaced-out episodes, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" is simply a film that should never have been made.    Starring Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro. Directed by Terry Gilliam. Written by Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni, Tod Davies and Alex Cox. Produced by Laila Nabulsi, Patrick Cassavetti and Stephen Nemeth. A Universal release. (Genre.) Rated R for pervasive extreme drug use and related bizarre behavior, strong language, and brief nudity. Running time: 118 min.
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