"Nothing more than a caricature of a man and a caricature of his book."
A film adaptation of a novel shouldnít require one to read the novel to understand or even enjoy the film. Sadly, to get anything out of the film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, one must read the book. Much like the characters it depicts, the film simply canít stand on its own.Based on a book filled with rampant drug use and a desperate search for that thing called the American Dream, the film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas manages to keep the rampant drug use intact. Journalist Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and his lawyer, Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro), head to Las Vegas to report on a desert motorcycle race. The two use this road trip to overload their systems on nearly every controlled substance known to man.
The journalist is the fictional alter ego of writer Hunter S. Thompson while the lawyer is based on Thompsonís friend Oscar Acosta. While the performances are certainly memorable, both come off as caricatures. The audience is never given anything more than crazed speeches and manic behavior. One scene stands out from this, when Dr. Gonzo threatens to kill a waitress. I felt legitimate emotion from the character for that one brief scene.
Director Terry Gilliamís films, even his failures, are usually full of fantastical images and the magic that many movies lack. As a long-time fan I was disappointed to realize, despite the altered states of mind and the outrageous personalities, that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is Gilliamís most plain movie.
Where the film ultimately fails is in its tone. If itís to be viewed as a comedy, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is most definitely a disappointment. There are several funny lines and laughable situations, but it all gets old too quickly. One can only watch two constantly strung out menaces wreaking havoc for so long before some kind of plot needs to step in and move things along. Even Dude Whereís My Car knew that much.
If it was meant to be an offbeat film with loftier notions, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is still a failure. There are hints at a higher meaning beyond watching two men nearly kill themselves and others around them. There are vague allusions to society dealing with the loss of 60s idealism. The filmís ending throw this in as an attempt to elevate it to a greater purpose. Itís just too bad the rest of the film was so devoid of it. Thereís no connecting the two.I realize that over the years Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has gathered quite a following. I just wonder if these people love it so much because they understand the novelís intention and can project that onto the otherwise vacuous film or because they see the movie as Half-Baked without the distracting plot elements.