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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Rated R

Starring: Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, and Tobey Maguire

Rating:
*
out of
*****

When a book is considered by many to be "unfilmable," that might be an indication that it's actually unfilmable. Many believed that if anyone could take Hunter S. Thompson's book and make it into a watchable movie, it would be Terry Gilliam, who's brought some delightfully oddball work, like 12 Monkeys and The Fisher King, to the screen in the past decade.

Now, to be honest, I haven't read Hunter S. Thompson's book. Still, one shouldn't have to have read the book that a movie is based on to enjoy it. It helps one to point out differences and make the inevitable comparison between the two works, but it shouldn't be a requirement to sit through a film and decipher it. In the case of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it might have helped me understand just what I was supposed to be watching.

Apparently, Thompson (Johnny Depp), under his journalistic pseudonym, Raoul Duke, has traveled to Las Vegas to cover a motorcycle race. He takes his "attorney", Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro), and a briefcase full of drugs with him to help enhance his coverage of the event. After taking at least some or, usually all, of each drug in the briefcase, and drinking more than their fair share of alcohol, things begin to unwind during the trip.

Armed only with this all-too-meager attempt at setting up a story, the film degenerates into a series of run-ins with different characters in and around Las Vegas, which allows for cameos by stars like Gary Busey, Christina Ricci, Mark Harmon, and Cameron Diaz. All of these run-ins are filtered through a drug-induced haze which propels Raoul and Dr. Gonzo into hysterical paranoia and provides further excuses for scenes full of confused expressions, vomiting, and knife-wielding.

The movie, which weighs in at a bloated 2 hours and 15 minutes, is way too long, especially when it really doesn't have a beginning or an end. We join these characters in mid-binge and follow them to just past mid-binge. Nothing really earth-shattering happens to them. No lessons are learned from their experiences. No interesting information is culled from watching them trash hotel rooms and mumble unintelligibly through their scenes. Some minor mention is made about drugs once being used to broaden awareness, but now they deaden the pain of reality. The behavior of Raoul and Dr. Gonzo, as the film depicts them, can't really be categorized as either enlightening or numbing. It merely looks like they have no clue how to function as normal human beings.

While there are a few humorous scenes, most of the movie is tedious and dull. Johnny Depp, who's always good in whatever he does, is the only watchable part of this film. Unfortunately, the rest of the film's hideous nature buries his performance.

Even if you can't find any other movie to see this summer, avoid this one.

Trivia: Johnny Depp's first screen appearance was in the 1984 horror movie, A Nightmare on Elm Street. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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