June 1998
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Movie review: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

By Lawrence Cabanero

Based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas follows journalist Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and his attorney Dr. Gonzo (Benicio del Toro) on a trip so incredibly enhanced by narcotics that any traces of plot or character development are dull, insignificant flashes of a false hope for a point to the film.

Director and co-writer Terry Gilliam (12 Monkeys, Brazil) successfully drives the viewer into the blurred choatic consciousness of Duke and Gonzo. Drug upon drug, altering the images of the night-time sparkle of Las Vegas and the trashy dullness of its day. The patterns on the carpet of the hotel lobby slither up the wall and the face of a woman mutates before Duke's eyes. As flattering (and unflattering) as Gilliam's visual depiction of alcoholism and drug addiction may be, he fails to make it interesting to watch. In a scene where they are high on ether and have lost all of their motor skills and in one where they are thrown out of a Debbie Reynolds show, it is hard to understand if it is all meant to be humorous, because it's difficult to even crack a smile.

Depp's and del Toro's one-dimensional characters and the hard-to-find story might as well have been non-existant. Johnny Depp, who has proved he can perform in over-the-top roles, is constrained to acting with his exaggerated eyes. In his mouth and in every scene, a cigarette holder jarbles any possible comprehendable words that the talented actor might say. By the end of the film you feel the same way about the characters as you did at the beginning of the movie, not really knowing anything about them. You are not only left trying to figure out "Why?" but are likely to still be asking yourself "Who?".

Fear and Loathing works much like an endless music video in which the actors might as well have been silent. And the plot thrown out. The real stars of the film are apparently supposed to be the drugs that performed visually and through a suitable soundtrack. But that alone was not enough to keep watching. It's a movie that never seems to get started in the first place anyway.

[D+] 68

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