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The 100




Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
(1998)
Reviewed by Jenny LeComte
Rating: 8.5 Beans

othing depresses me more than seeing a great book turned into a bad movie and this, my friends, is an absolute lulu.

It's based on the 1979 classic by Dr Hunter S. Thompson, an anti-establishment journalist whose weird, stream-of-consciousness books make up a major proportion of my personal library. I've also got a real fondness for Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" but I'd hate to see anyone try to make it into a movie.

Seeing the best minds of your generation being destroyed by madness and copious amounts of illegal drugs doesn't translate well to the silver screen as "Fear And Loathing" demonstrates.

To give them their due, they tried hard. Johnny Depp, cast as dissolute journo Raol Duke, actually hung out with Hunter S, borrowed some of his lurid Hawaiian shirts and no doubt traded tips on hotel room wrecking during the making of this movie.

The project also got off to a promising start when Alex Cox of "Sid and Nancy" infamy signed up as director. Halfway through the project, he realised his folly and palmed it off to Terry Gilliam who proceeded to make a - scuse the pun - real hash of it.

The soundtrack is killer with Jefferson Airplane, one of my personal faves, featuring prominently. But even the ballsy tones of Grace Slick and footage from a live Airplane concert in San Francisco (with a cameo appearance by Hunter S himself) couldn't save it.

We kick off with Depp tooling his 60s-style convertible cadillac across the Nevada desert with his costar Benicio Del Toro, who plays the grossly overweight and drug-raddled Samoan attorney. In the trunk, they've got a portable pharmacy and enough booze to sate Dean Martin and Boris Yeltsin - and still have some "hair of the dog" left over.

They were somewhere on the edge of Barstow when the drugs started to take hold. They see bats flying overhead and freak out. They see a California dude hitch-hiking, pick him up and proceed to scare the crap out of him.

Somehow, they make their way to Las Vegas - a place so surreal that it doesn't need chemical enhancement - and take more drugs. They swap theories as to why the lounge lizards in the bar turn into actual lizards and why the woman on the front desk has a distorted face.

In actual fact, she's probably wondering the identity of these two yobboes who proceed to get drunk, stoned, ripped, cactus, paralytic, plastered, Schindler's List, pissed and totally effed up with monotonous regularity.

There's not much plot to this movie apart from Raoul and his grotesque cohort stumbling around under the influence. Watching this movie was like being the only sober person at the party. You are the guardian of the car keys and it's your responsibility to ferry your mates home from various drunken revelries. But while they wax lyrical about the infamous Tia Maria/Mullumbimby Heads Incident of 1986 after they skulled six flaming sambuccas in a row, you've imbibed nothing but mineral water and so many Diet Cokes you're about to explode and fail to see the humour at all.

Incidentally, Raoul Duke was supposed to be in Vegas to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race for "Sports Illustrated" and write up a DA's conference for another well-heeled employer. As a magazine feature writer, I know the drill. Exotic locales. Fancy hotels. Room service chardonnay and lots of it. Only difference between me and Raoul is I actually came back with a story. Had I not, I think my features editor - a no nonsense gal who was reared on Fleet Street - would fit me with concrete shoes and make me swim laps in Sydney's shark-infested harbour.

Raoul has no such qualms. After imbibing a few grammes of quality coke, dropping some acid and washing it down with an adrenochrome chaser, he quickly turns his hotel room into a tip and tries to electrocute his attorney in the bath. This scenario is repeated countless times under different guises for an excruciating two hours.

He had no story and neither did "Fear and Loathing". If any journalistic merit came out of this film, it was unintentional support for Zero Tolerance and anti-drug campaigns. As for entertainment value, I had a bit of a laugh at Depp's pathetic over-acting and constantly waggling cigarette holder, but that's about it.

If you see it in the video store, just say no.



Other reviews for this movie:

Jason Catanese
Ned Daigle




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