Many people are familiar with the late Hunter S. Thompson and have read his books. Terry Gilliam was daring enough to take one of his books and convert it into a movie, a truly daunting task. The movie was made with an approximately $18.5 million budget and released to little fanfare in the box office. However, the film went on the gain a cult following after it was released on DVD.
The story begins with Raoul Duke aka Hunter S. Thompson cruising through the desert with his lawyer, Dr. Gonzo aka Oscar Z. Acosta in a red convertible. The two use pseudonyms in order to avoid revealing their real identity when they trash hotel rooms and cause trouble. It is immediately clear that something is wrong, however, since they are already under the influence of hallucinogens.
Raoul's goal as a journalist is to go to Las Vegas to cover the Mint 400 race, a motorcycle race that takes place every year. After checking in to a hotel, Raoul and Gonzo take some mescaline and go out on the town, causing chaos at every casino they go to. As time goes on, they get deeper and deeper into drugs until they are living in a total haze. Eventually, Raoul wakes up in a trashed hotel room and decides to leave Vegas.
This movie doesn't exactly have a deep plot, instead it is more about the drug culture of the 1960s. With that said, a lot of people just don't understand this movie. It is a dark comedy and meant to be funny, not dramatic or serious. And funny it is, as you will find yourself laughing hard while watching Raoul and Gonzo make fools of themselves in every way possible.
Raoul is played by Johnny Depp and his partner in crime, Gonzo, is played by Benicio Del Toro. There are many cameos in this film by other stars, including Tobey Maguire as a hitchhiker, Ellen Barkin as a waitress, Gary Busey as a highway patrolman, and Christina Ricci as Lucy. Even Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers makes a small appearance as a hippie in a bathroom.
There are countless memorable scenes in this film. One of my favorites was when they tried to walk into the Circus Circus Casino while on mescaline and ether. Another great scene features Gonzo taking a bath in his business suit, attempting to commit suicide at the height of an LSD trip. And of course, there is the scene where Raoul wakes up in his flooded hotel room after a drug binge of unknown length.
The choice of locations in this film really fit the chaos well. The fictional Circus Circus Casino, in particular, has a loony atmosphere that matches the mood of the movie. I also enjoyed the many hotel rooms that the pair trashed and it makes you wonder how on earth they came up with the ideas for decorating the walls.
All of the music in the film fits the era and location, particularly the songs by Tom Jones, a popular lounge singer. The scene where Raoul has a flashback of the 1960s scene features Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love", a popular song at that time. Other highlights include "Magic Moments" by Perry Como and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by The Rolling Stones.
This film features great special effects in the scenes where they are needed. Most of the special effects are pretty subtle, such as the scene where Raoul sees the pattern on the carpeting transform into creeping vines. Gilliam also uses some interesting camera angles to capture the moments, such as closeups of Raoul's crazed face during trips.
Overall, I thought this was one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. It is very hard not to laugh during many of the scenes, but you have to have a darker sense of humor. If you ever get a chance to watch this gem, certainly seize the opportunity.