Volume 92, Issue 3

Friday, May 29, 1998

big business


Depp goes gonzo in Vegas

Peter Mountain

"LEG...ITCHY..GOTTA...SCRATCH...OH YEAH." Johnny Depp spends a crazy weekend in Las Vegas as Hunter S. Thompson, the guy who loves his typewriter a little too much in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

By Christina Vardanis
Gazette Staff

Picture the city of Las Vegas in 1971. Imagine the constant flashing lights layering into the sky, the 16 lane roads with a never-ending stream of cars, twenty-story neon signs, a sea of spinning roulette wheels and chorus girls dressed in glitter that seems to pop from every nook and cranny. Imagine a city of excess, a savage assault on your senses.

Now imagine it on acid.

Terry Gilliam's new film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's cult classic novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas documents an autobiographical drug-induced weekend of Thompson and his attorney friend Oscar Aeta Acosta, known as Dr. Gonzo. It's a frightening and vivid peek into the tripped-up psyche of Thompson's alter ego Raoul Duke, played by the king of quirk, Johnny Depp.

Both Duke and Dr. Gonzo travel to America's heartland, Las Vegas, with just a few shirts thrown in the back seat of the car. Their suitcase is reserved for provisions that make the Trainspotting four look like smack babies – ether, acid, cocaine, mescaline, grass, uppers, downers, and tequila.

And these are just the cocktails.

There may be no conventional plot to the film, but to say this movie is without a story is to say that a dose of acid isn't a "trip" because you don't actually go anywhere.

Thompson and Gilliam constantly juxtapose images of war within Duke's drug-induced madness and make it strikingly clear that a battle is indeed waging. Only the war field is Thompson's mind and the enemies are the drugs. However in an ironic twist, it is also clear that the chemicals are his strongest ally.

Depp's portrayal of the eccentric gonzo journalist is the culmination of all the off-beat characters he's played in the past (Ed Wood, Edward Sissorhands). Thompson's mannerisms, from his bowlegged walk to his oral aerobatics with plastic filtered cigarettes, are played with ease and humour, adding a lighter side to the cloud of constant hallucination. Depp manages to command respect for Thompson's wit, intellect and American spirit – not easy to do for a man snuffing ether through an American flag.

A beefed-up Benicio Del Toro (The Usual Suspects) plays Dr. Gonzo and creates one of the most appalling, disgusting men to ever hit the big screen. Cameo appearances include the likes of Cameron Diaz, Ellen Barkin, Gary Busey, Tobey Maguire and even a hidden glimpse of Thompson himself.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a pure visual experience not meant for the casual viewer. Hallucinations, including a lounge full of speaking lizards and disco carpets that invade the bell-bottomed legs of casino patrons, often cross the line from fantasy to offensive. Gilliam's close attention to every minor detail in a world of absolute craziness creates a surreal experience that goes beyond one man's trip and into the minds and consciousness of those lucky enough to witness.

Bottom line, this movie is a savage journey through the altered mind of a wacked-out literary genius. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazette.entertainment@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998