Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (review)

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Vegas Vacation

Boy, I thought Trainspotting was enough to put me off drugs forever.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas puts Trainspotting to shame when it comes to exposing the glamorous drug culture: the daily vomiting, the wallowing in your own filth, the insane paranoia, the sickening hallucinations, the waking up with a lizard tail strapped to your butt. I mean, really: They shouldn’t be allowed to make movies like this, or everyone will want to join the fun and exciting world of illegal narcotics abuse.
Director Terry Gilliam has done a sort of about-face with Fear and Loathing. Whereas most of his films focus on a sane man in an insane world — Bruce Willis in Twelve Monkeys, Jonathan Pryce in Brazil, Jeff Bridges in The Fisher King, the little boy in Time BanditsFear and Loathing focuses on an insane man, Hunter S. Thompson, in a sane world. If you consider someone who’s never not high insane. If you consider Las Vegas sane.

Basically plotless and almost impossible to watch at times, Fear and Loathing follows Thompson (the always interesting Johnny Depp) and his lawyer (The Usual SuspectsBenicio Del Toro) on a psychedelic weekend romp from L.A. to Las Vegas, ostensibly for journalist Thompson to cover a motorcycle race. But mostly they spend their little holiday pumping their bodies full of increasingly bizarre intoxicants, trashing hotel rooms, threatening the help, and terrifying little girls.

What the movie lacks in plot it makes up for in irony. Thompson is constantly blathering on about finding the American dream in Vegas (which is hardly less pyschotropic than Thompson’s chemicals) — ironic on two levels. One’s first reaction might be that the traditional American dream — the whole white-picket-fence thing — is diametrically opposed to the sleaze and greed of Vegas. But after more consideration, one might stumble upon the notion — as I did — that Vegas truly is representative of the dream many Americans have: the something-for-nothing, quick-and-easy-money, greed-is-what-made-this-country-great path to enlightenment, with some half-naked women wearing ostrich feathers on the side, thank you very much. Look at all the fools willing to throw their money away on Powerball.

But that’s only the first level of irony. When Thompson and friend wander into a district attorneys’ conference on drug abuse, they are treated to the usual “dope fiend” hysteria — fed to an audience of D.A.s all puffing away on that legal narcotic, tobacco. In other words, let us not forget that your everyday, greed-is-good American is all too willing to clamp down on the bad guys’ vices — be it marijuana or cocaine or what have you — as long as you leave his vices — booze and cigarettes — alone.

And let’s face it: Is Thompson’s quick high really all that different from that of the blue-haired old lady mesmerizing by the one-armed bandit?

Your Flick Filosopher — who actually did live in a house with a white picket fence as a child — likes it up here on her high horse. Giddyap!

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