Going into this movie without any knowledge of the cast or production style was crazy. My first thoughts were wild and scattered, much like the characters themselves. It was as if I was watching a film projected in that crazy tunnel Willy Wonka keeps in his Chocolate Factory. Trippy and deranged, the narrator “Duke” is probably best related to Artie: The Strongest Man in the World. His delivery feels like the most insane and twitchy perspective you’ve ever encountered. That plus driving through the desert to Las Vegas, and I felt like I was watching a drugged out episode of Pete and Pete… that one where they race that family through Nevada to win the license plate “KING OF ROAD”.
But enough about Pete and Pete, back to these guys who store drugs like fireworks. Are you familiar with the New Yorker firework package? Its a little bit of everything thats glorious about lighting stuff on fire, bottle rockets, fountains, cakes… these guys have the drug equivalent of that. From the basics like weed, coke and acid to unfamiliar territory like ether and mescaline.
You don’t get to spend much time thinking about their magic box of crazy, because within the first 10 minutes Tobey Maguire shows up with long blond hippy hair. As if this thing couldn’t get any trippier. It has to be the second worst haircut he’s ever had in a film.
I read the first chapter of the Hunter S. Thompson novel this was was based on, and the movie may even go beyond the druggy vibe that the book has. We can thank director Terry Gillam for this, most famous for his trippy animations and effects in all of those Monty Python movies. He may be the best person who could have ever taken on the job of this film, the effects hold up amazingly ten years later. Considering that films like “The Mask” came out at the same time, you can really see that this is art over entertainment.
Ok, so its 20 minutes into the movie and I realize that Johnny Depp is playing Duke. I look it up quick on the net and I’m still not sure it is him. Its incredible. He is absolutely transformed. Balding, with a cracked out Elvis drawl. If you fancy yourself some Depp, do not miss this flick for the world. He somehow plays a character thats drunker than Captain Jack Sparrow, while at the same time high on coke.
Since the movie is half mumbles and slurred half finished sentences, I would usually recommend subtitles. However, no amount of subtitles are going to make the dialouge here make a lick of sense to you. So screw subtitles, just take drugs instead. The camera moves like you’ve just had six shots of tequila through scenes with Verne Troyer (pre-Mini Me), Cristina Ricci (can you say Sleepy Hollow reunion?), and early 70’s war propaganda.
Its an hour in and I have a new title for this film: Must Love Drugs.
Notice I haven’t really talked about the plot yet? Well there isn’t really any. Its about two guys who go to Vegas, take as many drugs has humanly possible, then trash their hotel room three times worse than any rock star ever could have. Their destruction is a work of art.
I deem this movie the best Anti-Drug movie of all time. If they showed this to me in 6th grade, instead of subjecting me to D.A.R.E. and a cartoon lion, then I would have been terrified of drugs. The lows they sink to, the sickness they feel, its all portrayed on screen to a horrifying perfection. You almost get a headache from their nausea, and thats a good thing.
Overall, the effects are amazing, the acting is incredible, the plot is rightfully incoherent, and the post 60’s drug craze message is clear. Its not really epic or satisfying in the end, but I certainly didn’t loathe Loathing, I loved Loathing.