Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a film without a plot or purpose. It relies solely on its visuals, which are a mess — the result of a bad drug trip. The characters are supposed to be stoned out of their mind for the entire time, and we are supposed to see what they see, although only some of the time. Other times, we watch from a greater distance, shaking our heads as these people chase the “American Dream.”
Or at least, that’s what they say they’re doing. They go to Las Vegas for a reason that is forgotten about right after it occurs. It turns out, that was just an excuse to travel. Their real goal is to take whatever drugs they can and meander around Vegas for a while. I guess you can call that the “American Dream” if you want, although actually accomplishing something might be good too. I think that one of the characters is supposed to be writing a story for a magazine, although if he actually has to or if he just thinks he has to is never made clear.
That’s true about a lot of the things that happen in this film; we’re never actually sure whether what they’re seeing is a hallucination or not. That works well for a while, but eventually we realize that nothing that happens will matter because it’s entirely possible that none of it is occurring outside of the characters’ minds. It’s entirely possible, for example, that the characters make it to their hotel room, and then spend several days just imagining everything we see from that point out. Or maybe they don’t even make it to Vegas. I’d believe that, considering they rarely seem capable of even the most basic tasks.
Our lead, and narrator, is Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp), who we first meet while he’s terrified of invisible bats. His sidekick is his “attorney” Gonzo (Benicio del Toro), who at times seems the more sensible of the two, but we later find out that sensibilities don’t matter after you do enough drugs. They’re carrying all sorts of drugs, ranging from weed to cocaine, ether to adrenochrome. I don’t think there’s a single moment in the film when either one isn’t under the influence of something, which at the very least provides a unique moviegoing experience, even if it isn’t always interesting.
One of the problems that comes from drug use in real life is a lack of productivity. The film fully embodies this, as the two characters don’t do anything during their two hours on-screen. They go from scene to scene without purpose, and after they arrive, they’re too stoned to use their time effectively. They even acknowledge this at one point, although their solution to using too many drugs is to simply use more and overcome that realization.
The best parts of the film do not come from the plot, but from Duke’s narration. In perhaps the only soberly-delivered lines of the entire film, the narration is both sharp, witty, and actually provides some insight into what the character is feeling during those times. That’s beneficial because we would never get that depth from the character on-screen, who is too numb to the outside world to provide us with silly things like feelings.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is based on the Hunter S. Thompson novel of the same name. The novel is mostly autobiographical, which means that the film, assuming few liberties were taken in its production, is also that way. I imagine that Thompson would have been an interesting person to meet and talk with in real life, although if the film is to be believed, he wasted a large portion of his life doing absolutely nothing. Maybe reading about these experiences in a book would be fun, but watching two stoners walk (or stumble) around Las Vegas didn’t make an enjoyable or even all that interesting.
I’m not going to just outright hate on a film portraying a couple of guys getting stoned and wandering around Las Vegas. But at least make the trip enjoyable for me as well! I was bored for the majority of the film, largely because its gimmick, the way everything looks because the film is trying to replicate what being on drugs looks like, wears thin fairly early on, leaving a couple of adventures that are simply uninteresting. Add that onto boring characters and a lack of plot, and you don’t make a film that’s worth watching.
You’d expect the lives of people who break every rule that Vegas has to offer (at least, that’s what the narration tells us happened) would be more interesting. It does get slightly intriguing later on with the introduction of Lucy (Christina Ricci) and the consequences that could be doled out for what the two end up doing to her, but that’s just overlooked and ends up being something that could have been fun, but is just another idea that’s only partially explored.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas isn’t a bad film, but it’s one that I couldn’t get invested in at all. Visually, it’s unique,and you’re unlikely to see many films like it, but that’s all it had going for it. The characters have little depth, they don’t do much of anything which means there’s not really a plot, and their lives are simply uninteresting once you get past the drug-infused gimmick. Watching this film is like trying to console someone on a trip gone wrong; it’s interesting, maybe even funny, at the beginning, but tedious, repetitive and even a little heartbreaking after a while.