In the late 70’s, John Kaye wrote a script about Hunter S. Thompson, exonerating his Gonzo ways. Art Linson said, “Okay, I’ll direct it,” and Bill Murray said, “Okay, I’ll play Hunter.”
And then the movie came out and Hunter has been heard publicly denouncing this movie. And I can see why.
Bill Murray does an excellent job as Hunter S. Thompson, down to the demeanors and the nuances. It makes sense since Bill Murray is a top-notch comedic actor and he also spent a good amount of time with Thompson working on the movie.
But aside from Murray’s performance, this movie falls flat on its ass. Peter Boyle’s Lazlo is over-the-top in ways that can’t even be described as slap-stick or vaudeville. He’s just a dumbass attorney–one that is completely different than the Chicano”Samoan” attorney that he was modeled after (for a better version of this attorney see Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). And everyone else is just poorly written and cast aside. It’s as if they wrote the script with just Thompson in a vacuum and then said, “Oh shit, he needs to have things to interact with,” and quickly wrote up all the other characters. Though I bet that if they had made a Thompson-in-a-vacuum movie, it would have been super-interesting in how Beckett-esque it would have been. I mean, could you imagine Hunter S. Thompson in Waiting for Godot? It would be awesome and uncouth.
One thing that bothered was that, during the ending, HST looks as if he’s about to abandon Lazlo and his crazy ideas–the current one being something about land in the desert. And, unless I’m mistaken, Hunter would never abandon someone because, to him, everyone he did or did not like was pivotal to his story. You can see this type of thing in his personality in you read Ralph Steadman’s book The Joke’s Over.
I’d also argue that a better sidekick for Hunter in this film would’ve been Ralph, who was his artist since the Kentucky Derby in 1970, at the very beginnings of the whole Gonzo movement. Their friendship had much more charisma and is one that should, hopefully, one day be made into a film (though I don’t know if we really need another movie about Thompson.).
This is a movie that falls on its ass and really wouldn’t seem very interesting to anyone who isn’t a huge fan of Bill Murray andor Hunter S. Thompson. Murray does such a good job that his performance makes the two hours of the film bearable.
Corollary: If you’re seeing this because you love Neil Young, you’re going to be disappointed. Every goddam song is merely a replay of “Home on the Range” with a different style to make it fit for each scene. And that’s pretty grating after Variation #3.