Edinburgh '98 Film: All crises no critique

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The Independent Culture


FEAR AND LOATHING in Las Vegas is a bad trip. Adapted from Hunter S Thompson's demented 1970s masterpiece by Terry Gilliam, this flamboyantly unfocused film drags across the screen in an ennervating welter of visual surrealism which captures the psychotic atmosphere of Thompson's book but little of its splenetic social and political critique.

Following Thompson's alter ego Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp), and his partner in pharmaceutical crime, Dr Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro), through a plotless picaresque of drug-fuelled debauchery, Fear and Loathing is less radical road movie than hysterical, one-note satire.

Maniacally mannered performances from Depp and Del Toro (who seem to be in some kind of line-slurring competition) make it impossible to get under the skin of the two-dimensional leads while, filtered through Duke's outsized, gonzo shades, everyone else on screen appears merely another monstrous mutation of 1970s repression and hypocrisy.

With such undifferentiated weirdness all around, there's little to do than laugh at the pathetic, sometimes savage excesses of Duke and Gonzo. Rather than a journey into Nixon's rotten American Dream, or even into the dark heart of Duke and Gonzo's amoral odyssey, Fear and Loathing becomes merely a hall of mirrors which endlessly warp and distort reality to fairground grotesquery.

At a Scene by Scene dissection of the movie last night, Gilliam ironically related how, when he inherited his script from sacked director Alex Cox, he became disenchanted with a story that just seemd to be about two guys on a drugs binge behaving badly over a weekend in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, his ambitious film fails to take Thompson's novel much further.