It’s 1971 and outlaw journalist Raoul Duke has just received an assignment to cover the “Death of the American Dream” in Las Vegas. His associate, Dr. Gonzo—a drug-crazed attorney known for being a loose-cannon—decides to tagalong, offering his legal services to aid Duke’s cause.
The duo decide to cover the story the only way they know how: by engaging in an orgiastic, gluttonous drug-binge that frays the circuitry inside their brains. Rounding-up a sizable collection of various psychedelics and narcotics, they hit the open road in a red convertible and promptly begin dabbling with the different pills and powders, drastically distorting their perceptions.
Meanwhile, a psychotic rapist and former client of Dr. Gonzo’s named Max Cady has just been released from prison. After 14 years of incarceration, he’s eager to exact revenge on the lawyer for deliberately mishandling his case—which resulted in having the obviously guilty Cady imprisoned. Gonzo, of course, denies the accusation. (When Duke asks Gonzo why’d he even represent a monster like Cady in the first place, Gonzo explains: “Christ, even a werewolf’s entitled to legal counsel.”)
Unbeknownst to the two travelers, Cady has attached himself to the axle of their convertible and secretly rides the hundreds of miles of Nevada desert, underneath them. The ex-con hovers inches above the scorching-hot asphalt, wondering why Duke and Gonzo are driving so erratically.
Arriving in Sin City, Cady begins to stalk his prey, following them to a Debbie Reynolds concert at one of the casinos. The malevolent stow-away makes sure Duke and Gonzo are fully aware of his presence when he loudly and conspicuously complains to the ushers about their smoking inside the theater. Ultimately, Cady has the pair thrown out.
The suspense builds when a confrontation is initiated at Bazooka Joe’s—a casino with carnival attractions and live circus acts that work in concert with Duke and Gonzo’s vivid hallucinations. Cady’s plans goes awry when the tweaked-out stoners simply laugh at the otherwise menacing ex-con, confusing him with the colorful, over-the-top carnies who bark at the pair, trying to solicit them.
Duke and Gonzo break in to uproarious laughter, simply too high to believe that Cady’s a serious threat. They retreat to their hotel room, locking themselves inside, and order room service while continuing to abuse every substance known to man.
Cady begins to feel depressed. Is he a failure? Has he lost his ability to frighten and intimidate? Is he no longer taken seriously? Should he, too, indulge in drugs?
He hasn’t given up, though. After re-reading the numerous Biblical inscriptions on his body—all of which are taken out of context, and inked during his long stint in prison—Cady re-charges his animosity. Sharpening his resolve, Cady is determined to demonstrate to the bulky, overweight lawyer that “vengeance is mine” (Romans, 12:19).
By the time Cady tracks them down, however, Dr. Gonzo has eaten an entire sheet of high-powered blotter acid, which has completely twisted the attorney’s consciousness. Knocking on the door of their room, Cady teases the freaked-out lawyer with his infamous line: “Come out, come out, wherever you are!” But when the large, ill-tempered lawyer opens the door, soaking-wet in his underwear and waving a razor-sharp hunting knife, Cady begins to seriously reappraise the situation. Is he truly the psychotic one after all? Is it time to consider more healthy, productive pursuits?
When the dejected Cady meets Lucy—an “artist” who paints only portraits of Barbara Streisand—he begins to question the purpose of his mission, and his aggressive nature. Touched by the depth of Lucy’s passion, and envious of her ability to express it in colorful reproductions of the famous entertainer’s visage, the psychotic rapist reaches out to the artist.
Will Cady learn to diffuse his rage and fury by cultivating an artistic side? As a result, will he become a reformed citizen? Or will he simply beat Lucy to a pulp, sink his teeth into her flesh and bite her cheek off?
Cape Fear has been previously made, twice—by J. Lee Thompson in 1961, and Martin Scorsese in 1991. Both versions were well-received, attaining critical and commercial success, while examining loop-holes within our legal system, the limitations of civil protection, and the blind-spots in reasoning caused by vendettas.
However, by conflating it with the 1998 Terry Gilliam cult-classic, Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas (based on the novel by “Gonzo” journalist Hunter S. Thompson), the new film expands it’s scope by looking at what happens when differing perceptions of reality collide.
More specifically, Cape Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas investigates different determinations on what constitutes a real threat or danger to one’s well-being—a psychotic with a beef, or the ingestion of chemicals that tap into one’s primal aggression?