written by alex cox , tod davies , terry gilliam and tony grisoni
directed by terry gilliam
i've always preferred mushrooms to blotter acid .
dropping acid is like riding a roller coaster blindfolded ; you have no idea where the peaks and valleys are , no idea when the next terrifying decent will send your stomach into your throat , and no idea how long the ride will last .
then there's the hard knot in your gut and the clenched teeth that come with ingesting a strychnine-laced dose .
mushrooms , on the other hand , offer the psychedelic equivalent of a leisurely ride on a ferris wheel : a steady , reassuring assent , a short period of thrilling motion and color , and then a smooth landing .
acid is for daredevils ; mushrooms are for refined seekers of joy .
my point is that in fear and loathing in las vegas , director terry gilliam has made an acid movie , when i wish he would have made a mushroom movie .
full of shocking sight gags , aggressive images and grotesque comic performances , the film certainly offers something for those fans of hunter s . thompson's book who want to experience its twisted pharmacological world-view from the inside out .
but for those of us who just want to enjoy a well-made film , gilliam has produced a mixed bag .
fear and loathing tells the ostensibly true story of how self-professed " gonzo " journalist hunter s . thompson ( johnny depp ) and hispanic activist attorney oscar zeta actosta ( benicio del toro ) , came to las vegas to cover a motorcycle race and found themselves trapped in the middle of a district attorney's convention while ingesting every conceivable drug available to a man of means in 1971 .
operating under the pseudonyms of " raoul duke " and " dr .
gonzo " , the two men careen into vegas on an acid and mescaline bender , then hole up in a hotel suite to binge on amyl nitrite , cocaine , tequila and a rainbow of multi-colored uppers and downers .
they terrorize every one they meet , mostly because every one they meet terrifies them .
duke hallucinates giant bats on the way into town , then is attacked by horrifying lizards in the casino lounge .
dr . gonzo becomes enamored of a thick-bladed hunting knife and begs duke to throw the tape player into the bathtub with him just as jefferson airplane's " white rabbit " reaches its climax .
and these guys don't just trash hotel rooms - they rape them , humiliate them and leave them for dead .
that neither of them ends up dead or in jail is testament to blind luck or providence , depending on your point of view .
thompson's book , besides being a hilarious read , has stood the test of time as an important historical document .
it simultaneously exposed the 60's drug culture for the sham that it was and exposed las vegas as the place where the american dream came to die .
pontificate all you want about how the film illustrates thompson's message , but the truth is that , stripped to its bare essentials , what gilliam has wrought is a drug comedy .
it's a cheech and chong movie .
you're there to watch depp and del toro ingest a lot of chemicals and then laugh at the results : see johnny take drugs , see johnny fall down .
there's nothing wrong with this concept , but gilliam tries too hard .
this is a frantic movie - all sweaty close-ups , wide-angle lenses , dutch tilts and other-worldly lighting schemes .
there are times when gilliam really does put a convincing representation of an acid trip on the screen .
but to what end ?
much of the dialogue comes verbatim from thompson's book , and there are some priceless comic observations .
but you're hard pressed to hear or digest them amidst all the jumbled camera work .
this brings us to the performances , which strike me as all wrong .
depp plays thompson as groucho marks filtered through george c . scott in patton - a gimmicky performance which works against the biting satire of thompson's dialogue .
in between his several puking scenes , del toro fares better as dr . gonzo , but he also mumbles and sputters so many of his lines that their weight is lost .
watching these two made me wish that the movie had been made twenty years ago , with dan akroyd and john belushi as the leads - now that would have been something to see .
it's interesting to note that alex cox , credited as a co-writer on the screenplay , was originally slated to direct before gilliam took over .
as much of a fan as i am of gilliam's work , cox would have been the better choice .
sid and nancy , cox's best work , covered essentially the same subject matter , but cox was able to pull back and allow the characters of sid vicious and nancy spungen to carry the film .
gilliam commits the compound sin of over-directing his film while being uncertain of his purpose .
what kind of movie was he trying to make , anyway ?
it doesn't try to be a cautionary tale , and it doesn't work as broad comedy .
if he had considered more carefully his purpose , the result would have been a much more interesting film .
but i don't want to be too hard on it .
there are some truly funny moments , and if you're in a good enough mood you might get a kick out of it .
i do , however , recommend watching fear and loathing in las vegas under the influence of your favorite controlled substance - i guarantee it will enhance the effect .