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Review by Matthew Leary (5/98)

Release: 1998, Universal
Starring: Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Cameron Diaz, Christina Ricci, Gary Busey
Director: Terry Gilliam
MPAA Rating: [R] violence, language, sexuality
Genre: Social Satire


An edgy, eccentric journalist (Depp) and his dangerously unstable lawyer (Del Toro) travel to Las Vegas loaded with every drug known to mankind in an aimless search for the American Dream. Based upon the novel by Hunter S. Thompson.


Johnny Depp is absolutely dead-on in his portrayal of the self-parodying Raoul Duke. He's got the look and mannerisms--from the straddling gait to the tight-lipped, snappy speech--down cold, as surely as if the character in Thompson's novel were based on Depp's human caricature. Del Toro also pulls off a performance so flawless that he's completely unrecognizable from his previous high profile role, that of Alicia Silverstone's romantic interest in Excess Baggage. Terry Gilliam's direction captures the surreal, mind-bending drug trips that the two main characters experience, filling the audience with a sense of disorientation, unease, and the overall gaudiness of a Las Vegas that had not yet become as neon-lit as it is today. Fear and Loathing is strongest when it becomes an overt journal, chronicling the experiences of one disillusioned writer.


Unfortunately, the message that was so readily apparent in Thompson's novel was suffocated in the film. The book took a twisted path into the American Dream: it tested the depths of human depravity in a city without rules, the bright light sights of Las Vegas. It used the drug trips as a backdrop for the limits placed on man. But the movie takes those trips and very nearly makes them its entirety. At two hours, the film becomes painfully redundant as it becomes one goofy trip after another, so much so that the audience laughs too much at what should have been a serious and grave examination. The book had some moments that could be taken as light hearted humor--or, more readily, levity under the guise of irony--but it was never one big laugh-a-thon.

Any hope of an inward exploration of the human condition is just about crushed by this big screen adaptation. In short, Gilliam's film complements the novel to a degree, in that it offers a stunning visual accompaniment. But it by no means replaces Thompson's literary work.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)

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