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Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride: Hunter S. Thompson on Film
[AllPosters.com] Buy posters from this movie
by Todd LaPlace

"Take the ride, but only if the ticket’s free."
2 stars

I understand why Johnny Depp and Bill Murray were interviewed for “Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride,” a documentary about the films related to gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. I even understand why Gary Busey makes an appearance (he briefly appears in “Fear and Loathing” and adlibbed his flirtation with Depp’s character). But how does Harry Dean Stanton fit in? And John Cusack? And Ed Bradley? And Tom Wolfe? And William S. Buckley? And former Sen. George McGovern? And former Sen. Gary Hart? They might have all known Thompson, and can even weave fascinating tales of their friend (most don’t, but you never knew), but they bear no relation to the two films that are supposedly the focal point of the documentary. Maybe that’s why the doc isn’t anything special.

I suspect shotgun golf is not a new style sanctioned by the PGA. It was not even a sport I was familiar with before watching “Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride: Hunter S. Thompson on Film,” and I’m fairly certain I will never encounter it again, short of repeat viewings of this Thompson documentary. It was, however, an athletic event Thompson seemed rather proud to participate in, especially since it was important enough for even John Cusack to tell the tale of his first encounter with the sport. According to Cusack, one person would tee up a golf ball in the back yard of Thompson’s Colorado estate, and another would use a shotgun to try and shoot the ball out of the sky before it hit the ground, being careful to avoid the dogs running through the yard. Was it dangerous? Was it slightly insane? Definitely, and such is the friendly view of gonzo journalist Thompson.

Anyone familiar with either of the fictionalized accounts of Thompson’s fact and/or fake misadventures — 1980’s “Where the Buffalo Roam” and 1998’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” — is almost certainly aware of the near mythical persona surrounding Thompson. Director Tom Thurman must be a fan of both films, as “Buy the Ticket” almost exclusively revolves around the two films and the persona they helped perpetuate. During a clip from “Breakfast with Hunter,” Thompson attempts to distance himself from the myth, saying that the private Hunter bears little resemblance to the public front he wears for appearances, and stories about shotgun golf notwithstanding, it seems he might have a point. The Hunter S. Thompson brand (which occasionally manifested itself as alter ego Raoul Duke, as in “Fear and Loathing”) might be false, but instead of searching for the real Thompson, Thurman has decided to simply rehash his films, producing what is arguably the cinematic equivalent to an average undergraduate term paper.

That’s not to say that Thurman hasn’t made an entertaining film that occasionally hits genuine gold, but a film that never progresses beyond Thompson’s friends and admirers reading verbatim from his work in between film clip is destined to stall at banality. All of the talking heads wax about Thompson’s originality, his vision and his unique style. They talk about how influential he was with several generations during their youths. All of these descriptions are at least partially true, but the one adjective — perhaps the most obvious adjective — that’s never mentioned is that Thompson was an immense narcissist. All of his work, including his journalistic work (which is primarily supposed to be presented from an unbiased third-person perspective), was exclusively about himself. But because of an extreme dedication to himself, Thompson took extreme care to make sure he was presented just so, right down to allowing Johnny Depp to live in his basement before Depp began shooting “Fear and Loathing” (no word on whether he extended the same courtesy to “Buffalo’s” Bill Murray). And it is within these small remembrances that we begin to understand Thompson and his relationship to his work. Depp talking about the film (or for that matter, critic Leonard Maltin or film historian F.X. Feeney) is actually rather boring. Depp talking about shadowing Thompson for weeks while living under his roof is far more interesting, but alas, such stories are scattered too few and far between.

“Buy the Ticket” is actually Thurman’s sixth biodoc, having already posthumously covered the likes of John Ford, Sam Peckinpah and rodeo star/character actor Ben Johnson, but he’s still making rookie mistakes. In the first crucial minutes of “Buy the Ticket,” those minutes in which to capture the attention of the audience and make them care about the subject, Thurman makes two huge mistakes. The first is to focus too heavily on the titles of Thompson’s numerous books. A massive rundown of titles accompanies a slew of famous folk talking about Thompson, and I found myself paying more attention to the list of work than the memories of the man. The second, and perhaps more grievous, error was to even attempt to interview actor/professional nutjob Gary Busey. Instead of approaching the questions as an interview, Busey instructed Thurman to pretend to just walk into the actor’s home, introduce himself and sit down to a casual conversation about a mutual acquaintance. All of which required five minutes of explanation, all captured on film and exhibited in the opening of “Buy the Ticket.” Yes, it’s absolutely brilliant, hysterical footage, but even when Cusack appears shortly after to talk about Thompson’s love of orgies, I found myself more curious about Busey. At that moment, I would have rather seen a film about the Busey’s obvious mental collapse. Was it a slow fade into insanity? Did Busey shake Mr. T’s hand on the first day of shooting “D.C. Cab” and demand that T pretend to be trespassing on his property to sit down and have an informal chat about his “A Star is Born” co-star Barbra Streisand? Or did playing a supporting figure behind an annoying 13-year-old in “Rookie of the Year” set him off? Or did he simply snap one afternoon while perusing Proust and enjoying a nice wedge of brie? And if I had time to contemplate all of that while America’s foremost wholesome leading man talks about guns and kinky sex, something must be wrong. Just because it’s great footage, doesn’t mean you have to use it. If Thompson ever got the chance to watch “Buy the Ticket,” I’m sure he would be appalled that one of the most entertaining moments of the film was about something other than himself.

Thinking back on the cavalcade of stars paraded through this documentary, why was Nick Nolte hired to “narrate” the film, especially since he only had three or four lines? Nolte’s gravely voice isn’t exactly made for voice-over work. Let’s just hope 7 is Thurman’s lucky biodoc number.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15630&reviewer=401
originally posted: 12/29/06 00:47:04
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