Combustible Celluloid
With: Jay Bulger, Cheryl Hines, Amaryllis Fox, Laird Macintosh, Emily Garnet, Alexis Kelley, Micah Flamm, Maxwell Loeb
Written by: Bobby Kennedy III
Directed by: Bobby Kennedy III
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 85
Date: 07/23/2021

Fear and Loathing in Aspen (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Freak Performance

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though it lacks the production value of other Hunter S. Thompson movies, this loose, zany tale of sound and fury signifying nothing has just enough sheer, scruffy invention to please true Gonzo fans.

It's 1970, and writer/journalist Hunter S. Thompson (Jay Bulger) is living in Aspen, Colorado, with his wife Sandy (Emily Garnet) and young son Juan (Lincoln Nemeth). One day he notices that a factory is dumping waste into the river where he and Juan fish. He attends a town hall meeting to do something about it, and finds no help. He decides to run for sheriff in the upcoming election.

With local newspaper reporter Peggy Clifford (Amaryllis Fox) as his campaign manager, they learn that, because of particular Colorado voting laws, anyone staying in Aspen for at least a month can vote without a proof of address. Currently, Aspen attracts a mix of wealthy ski vacationers and hippies; if Hunter can harness enough "freak power" from the latter group, he has a chance to win. But conservative Mayor Eve Homeyer (Cheryl Hines) will stop at nothing to keep the status quo.

Formerly titled Freak Power, Fear and Loathing in Aspen is a clever mix of real, archival, documentary-style film footage blended seamlessly with similar, fictional footage (designed to look old, but featuring the actors), plus split-screens, and new, widescreen footage of events as they're happening. This has the effect of drawing us into that time and place without much production design.

As the centerpiece Thompson, Bulgar can't quite compete with heavyweights Bill Murray (Where the Buffalo Roam) and Johnny Depp (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Rum Diary). However, working with actual Thompson prose, he lands the writer's trademark deadpan snarl and devil-may-care delivery, and sells the role effectively.

At the helm, Bobby Kennedy III — the grandson of the late Senator Bobby Kennedy — makes his directing debut, presumably bringing his own knowledge (and cynicism) of American politics, as well as his own misfit angles. An admittedly fictionalized version of actual events, Kennedy's movie creates a kind of chugging suspense as the election grows closer, even if it can't seem to find much meaning in the outcome.

Fear and Loathing in Aspen ends with a bit of a thud, but its mirrors to today's politics still make it a decent candidate for a viewing.

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