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  Where the Buffalo Roam The Great Gonzo
Year: 1980
Director: Art Linson
Stars: Peter Boyle, Bill Murray, Bruno Kirby, Rene Auberjonois, R.G. Armstrong, Danny Goldman, Rafael Campos, Leonard Frey, Leonard Gaines, Otis Day, Mark Metcalf, Jon Matthews, Joseph Ragno, Quinn K. Redeker, Lisa Taylor, Danny Tucker, Craig T. Nelson
Genre: Comedy, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Hunter S. Thompson (Bill Murray) is trying his darnedest to get this article finished on time, but as he sits in his office with two hours to go before the deadline, he is aggravated by the sound of the telephone ringing, knowing it's the editor demanding he supply the material. Hunter pours himself another drink, gets distracted by setting his dog on his Richard Nixon effigy, and eventually pulls his gun to shoot the phone and fax machine in frustration. But this is all the impetus he needs, and he settles down at the typewriter...

Gonzo journalist Thompson, in spite of the vividness and character of his writing, proved difficult to pin down here in the first movie made about his writings and adventures, some of which may have been invented in the first place. Certainly the man himself detested this film, although he did appreciate Murray's portrayal of him as, like Johnny Depp some years later, he had invited the Saturday Night Live comedian over to his ranch for "research" purposes, which essentially meant partying hard for a while. So Thompson and Murray got along, but that did not mean the final result was to many people's liking.

In fact, the film was judged to be one of Murray's disasters, one of those efforts he made in an attempt to do something different with his career that hardly anyone in 1980 was interested in seeing. Later on he would expertly juggle the artier or quirkier stuff with the populist material which had made his name, but back then, with not even Thompson having much good to say about Where the Buffalo Roam, the general public of Reagan's America were not going to line up to see sending up political conservatives, and the author's fans would only want to catch this out of morbid curiosity thanks to its poor reputation.

Actually, this was not quite that bad as those who took a chance on it over the following years found out, it's just that it was not particularly funny, and the political insights were rather thin on the ground, applied with something of a blunt instrument rather than cutting insight. Most of the humour veered towards slapstick, with Murray and Peter Boyle making a double act of anarchists in staid society as Hunter tries to cover the Superbowl and the 1972 Republican electoral campaign, but ends up roaming on the periphery, getting progressively more drunk and/or stoned, encouraging others to join him.

Boyle was playing Laszlo, a character based on the mysterious Oscar Zeta Acosta, his lawyer and crusader for decriminalising recreational drug use. The point about otherwise law-abiding citizens getting sent to prison for lengthy terms being a waste of time and money for all concerned, not to mention a dubious case against the defendant's rights, is made early on but not much developed, as director Art Linson (an interesting producer whose two directorial outings were not exactly embraced) looked to be more aiming for some self-impressed laughs. But Thompson was right, Murray wasn't bad at all, it's simply that the jokes failed to make the transition from page to screen, and the elaborate (though still fairly low budget) set pieces didn't exactly tickle the funny bone or more importantly make you think too far outside of whatever opinions you already had. Of course Nixon makes an appearance to act as a cold shower amid all that hedonism, but this didn't look too much fun anyway. Music by Neil Young.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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