Based on the 1971 novel of the same name by Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a 1988 black comedy co-written and directed by Terry Gilliam. Loosely autobiographical, the plot, such as it is, follows journalist Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) as he drives a bright red Chevrolet convertible across the Mojave Desert to Las Vegas to cover the 1971 ‘Mint 400’ off-road motorcycle race for ‘Sports Illustrated’. Duke narrates the story in the first person.
Duke is accompanied by his psychopathic, apparently Samoan, attorney and friend Dr. Gonzo (Benicio del Toro), who shares his liking for drink, drugs and foul language. The duo take the precaution of packing the trunk of the car with a plethora of psychoactive substances – including
adrenochrome, amyl nitrite, diethyl ether, mescaline and LSD, to name but a handful – which they consume with increasing frequency.
Indeed, the original journalistic assignment becomes an afterthought as the protagonists descend into mania during three-day, drug-fuelled binge in the City of Sin. During a series of psychedelic episodes, they demolish a hotel room, run up an eye-watering room service bill and wreck the car. Fleeing the scene, Duke encounters a highway patrol officer (Gary Busey), causing him to return to Las Vegas, where his binge continues with few apparent consequences.
According to Rotten Tomatoes, the critics’ consensus was, ‘Visually creative, but also aimless, repetitive, and devoid of character development’. Xan Brooks of ‘The Independent’ wrote, ‘Incident, caricature and lurid Seventies fashions are substituted for plot and character, and the film soon descends into narcotic lunacy. The one stand-out is Johnny Depp, who brings Hunter S Thompson to bald-headed, pigeon-toed life.’