As I head for Las Vegas today, I thought I'd post my five favorite movies made in Sin City...
What it's about: Two would-be Hollywood players struggling valiantly to make the scene in Vegas and L.A.
Why I love it: The movie starts out with Jon Favreau wallowing over a recent breakup with his girlfriend. Vince Vaughan drags him out of his despondency and drives him to Vegas to shack up with a couple of bored cocktail waitresses. That is the very definition of true friendship. Favs screws up the plan, of course, but his buddy is undaunted. I remember watching this movie repeatedly after a breakup and the antics of these two characters always took my mind off of it.
Favorite scene: when Favs hopelessly leaves a litany of desperate late-night messages for a woman he doesn't even know. It hurts so good.
VERY BAD THINGS (1998)
What it's about: Four repressed men and Christian Slater cut loose in Vegas, only to accidentally kill a hooker. After that, their weekend just keeps getting worse and worse and worse and (when you think they've finally reached rock bottom...) worse.
Why I love it: My roommate in college rented this one night. I didn't want to watch it because I thought it looked like a frat boy movie, but I got sucked in. After a while, I couldn't believe what I was seeing... The humor just kept getting darker and darker, until the final scene had me laughing so hard that I was actually in pain. I know there are a lot of people who don't see the humor in this movie. In fact, I think I might even be glad that a lot of people don't see the humor in this movie... but nevertheless I love it, because it has the balls to go so much further than THE HANGOVER.
Favorite scene: This one's cumulative, so the final scene is the comic coup de grace.
FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998)
What it's about: Two drug-addled freaks trying to outshine the larger-than-life absurdity of Vegas itself.
Why I love it: When I was in college, I read everything by Citizen Gonzo. One drunken night, my friend Dave and I even wandered from party to party, prompting friends and strangers to read passages from FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS. (How I wish I still had that recording.) What has always amazed me about Hunter Thompson is the way he invented himself. In The Proud Highway, his first volume of personal letters (written while he was still formulating his future as Gonzo), he writes: “You can either impose yourself on reality and then write about it, or you can impose yourself on reality by writing.” He started out doing the latter, and moved on to doing the former... Eventually, Hunter Thompson became the story. Terry Gilliam's adaptation of the writer's most famous work is ridiculous, grotesque, occasionally mean-spirited, always self-indulgent, simultaneously brilliant and overblown... and that's exactly the point. Visually, it's a feast for the eyes that's meant to be regurgitated. I can't explain it any better than that... It's gonzo.
Favorite scene: This is a tough one... but I'm going to have to go with the scene where our fear-full reporter cowers in front of his beastly lawyer, while under the influence of "adrenacrome." Johnny Depp perfectly captures the cartoonish side of Hunter Thompson, with his wildly exaggerated movements and animal-like noises. The actor didn't simply become the character - he was consumed by the character. Think about it: Depp hasn't played a role since FEAR AND LOATHING that didn't have a touch of Thompson's eccentric mannerisms. (On a side note: I can't help wondering what Bill Murray would have done in the role. If only he'd made WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM later in his career...)
FOOLS RUSH IN (1997)
What it's about: Rom-com with Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek as a mismatched couple who try to turn one night in Vegas into a lifelong commitment.
Why I love it: I'm not really sure. I usually hate romantic comedies. I especially hate the designation "rom-com," and the fact that I used it above. That said, I have an occasional weakness for a handful of them. A while back, I joked to my friend John Muir that I was going to write an entire blog on my favorite romantic comedies. He warned me not to do it, saying that I'd alienate whatever readership I have... and he's probably right. Just the same, I'm going to admit that this one is a guilty pleasure. Of course, there's the obvious appeal of watching Salma Hayek for two hours. But I also genuinely like her character, the way she incorporates her cultural beliefs into everything she does. I can understand not only why Matthew Perry falls in love with her at first sight, but why he remains in love with her - despite and because of how different they are. Also, the idea that Salma Hayek could fall so deeply in love with Matthew Perry gives us all hope.
Favorite scene: where Matthew Perry comes home to find his minimalist suburban tract house transformed into a southwestern art music. His reaction to the giant crucifix always gets me.
What it's about: A group of friends whose lives criss cross in Vegas and L.A., where they get away with the kind of shit you can only get away with when you're young and immortal.
Why I love it: Like the friends in VERY BAD THINGS, the characters in GO are constantly getting into deep trouble... but, unlike the guys in VERY BAD THINGS, they always manage to escape unscathed. That's part of the youthful spirit of this film. Watching this movie is sort of like getting high and doing everything that pops into your head, with total impunity. It's what a night in Vegas should be... an experience that leaves you with stories that you can only share with the people you experienced them with.
Favorite scene: where Nathan Bexton, tripping on ecstasy, communicates telepathically with a cat. It reminds me of this one time when I was hallucinating characters from the Fat Albert cartoons... but that's a story for another day...