Year Released: 1998
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 118 minutes
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Don’t you hate films that require some kind of previous experience or education on the part of the viewer to really understand? Well this movie is one of them and that’s a DAMN GOOD THING. For the experienced drug connoisseur (I’ll cop to it), this is the advanced doctorate version of “Blood on the Highway.”
For all of you idiot film reviewers, do the two main characters, Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and Dr. Gonzo (Benicio del Toro) really look like they’re having a grand old time? I don’t think so. Like Hunter S. Thompson’s classic tome, we see the ugly downside of the drug revolution. Revolutions tend to end in anarchy and pointless bloodshed. Instead of a higher consciousness, we get Duke, and we get a ringside seat for how meaningless and cruel the real world is, and a close look at the demons within himself. “Fear and Loathing” does for psychedelics what “Boogie Nights” does for cocaine; displaying in graphical detail the ultimate failure of drugs as an escape route. You feel the psychic thud as our anti-heroes hit bottom. It ain’t pretty.
It’s a valid complaint since we barely see what the poor bastards are like when they aren’t binging, so no level-headed base line is ever really established. These guys didn’t end up this way overnight, though. They worked their way down. “The Truman Show”, one of the best films of the year, doesn’t make a lot of sense without knowing the conventions of television. However, we all know about sets and cues and product placements. In this case, uneducated about drugs, these bozos look like a couple of joy-riding assholes pissing on anything standing in their way. They aren’t exactly doped up on any judgement enhancers. Duke and Gonzo’s understanding of the repercussions always comes too late. They have no guide for their descent into hell, just the psychic corpses of everyone they ran down on the way to mark their way.
Now this is a damn funny film, but it’s not some Bill Murray flick. Vegas is surreal enough, without turning into a cross between Sid Vicious and Otis, the town drunk. You can either laugh at the buffoonery and/or cringe with recognition from your own experiences. I know I did. Duke, Thompson’s alter-ego, has moments of clarity throughout the film. He knows the 60s are over. Like a lot of habitual users, though, he’s always trying to move the bottom of the well lower to prevent hitting it on the way down. The drugs may expand your mind, but sometime you’ll look down and see only the filth you’re standing in.
What kind of moron thinks this film glamorizes drugs? “Die Hard” can be a lot of fun to watch, but I wouldn’t want to live through it. “Fear and Loathing” is a sort of psychedelic action film. It’s a blast, but I wouldn’t want to be there, either. If you want an easy rush, get on a roller coaster. The other stuff is just pants-shitting terror. Buy a ticket, take a ride.
Posted on June 1, 1998 in Reviews by Ron Wells
If you liked this article then you may also like the following Film Threat articles:
- FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS: CRITERION COLLECTION (BLU-RAY)
- FEAR AND LOATHING AT CINEVEGAS
- GONZO: THE LIFE AND WORK OF DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON
- FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS
- BREAKFAST WITH HUNTER (DVD)
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