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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Starring: Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro
Director: Terry Gilliam
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: May 1998
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Donald Morrow, Christina Ricci, Ellen Barkin, Tobey Maguire, Gary Busey, Flea, Penn Jillette, Harry Dean Stanton, Mark Harmon

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie review
2.  Harvey Karten read the review ---
3.  Jerry Saravia read the review ---

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

"We were somewhere on the edge of the desert when the drugs took hold," explains the stoned and wild-eyed journalist Raoul Duke. He speeds along like an out-of-control missile in the opening to FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, which is based on the famous semi-autobiographical novel by Hunter Thompson about his gonzo journalism. Set in a stoned-out 1971, the movie's central character, Raoul, and his sidekick and attorney, Dr. Gonzo, spend the entire picture ripped, stoned, plastered, wasted, you name it. With a cornucopia of drugs in the trunk of their rented Cadillac convertible, they are on their way to Las Vegas, where they will cover the national convention of District Attorneys, among other things. Mainly they are going so they can party using every illegal substance you've ever heard of and some you haven't.

As directed by the wildly imaginative Terry Gilliam from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, BRAZIL, THE FISHER KING and TWELVE MONKEYS, the comedy starts off so ridiculously that you can expect many people to walk out in disgust.

The remarkably talented Johnny Depp plays the lead, Raoul. To his credit, Depp takes what starts as an almost unwatchably bad movie and manages to make it kind of fascinating. With arms waving at imagined terrors, with feet and legs wobbling so he can barely walk without falling, and with a voice that sounds like it's coming from the bottom of a well, he looks so convincingly drugged out of his mind that you'll want to help him into treatment. When he walks, he darts from wall to wall due to his drug-induced paranoia. You see, he has killer bats chasing him. Depp's performance is so over the top and mesmerizing that he manages to make you care about a highly unsympathetic character.

Benicio Del Toro takes a more by the numbers approach to the part of Dr. Gonzo. He mumbles so many of his lines that he makes his character believable but rarely interesting.

A host of actors appear in cameo roles. Gary Busey plays a macho policeman who chases the speeding and stoned Raoul. The policeman is an understanding sort, who orders Raoul to get some rest and asks only for a little kiss in return. Christina Ricci plays a teenager who paints large oil portraits of Barbra Streisand while watching her on television. Raoul and Dr. Gonzo have nightmares about her naming them in a statutory rape trial.

In one of the film's best scenes, Raoul's drugged brain morphs a bar of conventioneers into a group of alien monsters like those in the bar scene in STAR WARS. In another scene, the pattern in the carpet starts to move and eventually turns to flowing blood. The special effects in the movie are inventive and the psychedelic colors of the sets by THE CROW's Alex McDowell are eye-catching. And when the movie gets utterly absurd, as it frequently does, at least the audience is entertained by some great music of the late 60s and early 70s.

FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS runs 1:55. It is rated R for constant drug usage and would be fine for kids only if they are of college age.

Copyright 1998 Steve Rhodes

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