No matter how many times you tell the Hunter S. Thompson story the vehicle has plenty of mileage left.
The saga of Thompson has seen movie adaptations with Bill Murray (“Where the Buffalo Roam”) and twice with Johnny Depp (“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “Rum Diary”).
In “Fear and Loathing in Aspen” Jay Bulger plays Thompson and stands on equal footing with the portrayals of Murray and Depp. Bulger himself has his hands in multiple cookie jars, directing documentaries on boxing and Cream drummer Ginger Baker (2012’s “Beware of Mr. Baker”) between acting gigs. With his shaved head and strong anti-establishment attitude Bulger makes a convincing Thompson.
The story revolves around Thompson’s run for sheriff in his Colorado hometown and the film’s shrewd analysis of political chicanery and corruption begs comparison to current times. Use of split screen gives the film a 70s-vibe that adds to the enjoyment.
Thompson used his clout as a then controversial writer to register people to vote, which upset the dominating apple cart of the town’s politicians.
Yet “Fear and Loathing in Aspen” doesn’t unwind with the phantasmagoric imagery of Terry Gilliam’s Vegas excursion nor does it wallow in the wackiness of “Buffalo Roam,” which was Murray’s second starring role after “Meatballs.”
There’s a pervasive feeling of the underdog battling the windmills of society that gives Thompson true rooting appeal. Director Bobby Kennedy III (grandson of RFK, and son of Robert Kennedy Jr.) delivers a tidy package that swells with populism.
Kennedy’s wife pops up in a small part, as does his stepmother Cheryl Hines in her role as Aspen’s unwaveringly conservative mayor.
“Fear and Loathing in Aspen” opens in select theaters on July 23.