Sunday, June 22, 2014

Where the Buffalo Roam (1980)

Bill Murray would seem the perfect choice to play Hunter S. Thompson in this crazy, drug-fueled account of the Gonzo journalist's misadventures with his equally unorthodox activist attorney Carl Laszlo (Peter Boyle) in the early '70s. Murray's performance is oddly restrained, acting as a kind of dry, sarcastic observer at the center of the hurricane of insanity he has precipitated, but after a while, the shapelessness of the film wears thin, especially by the time it culminates with a bizarre sequence aboard the press plane on the presidential campaign trail, which never becomes quite as all-out zany as it should be. The problem is that the script places one wild scene after another, yet lacks the structure due to Art Linson's uninspired direction to make them really effective and to realize the full potential of each one.

Still, there are parts of the film that work: the early scenes at the Blast Magazine editorial office and the courthouse have a particular charm in depicting the cultural and political climate of the period, and Murray's sarcastic, casual asides and occasional outbursts in the courtroom are the kind of thing the comedian does so well. The scenes that bookend the film, with Murray delivering his eccentric monologues alone in his cabin -- accompanied only by his dog and a life-size dummy wearing a Nixon mask -- are the highlights of the movie. Murray could play an entire film in this set-up alone and make it entertaining to watch.

Thompson himself reportedly hated the film for its script but had praise only for Murray's performance. Despite its flaws, this is still an important role for Murray, demonstrating not only his obvious comic talents, but also an early example of the interesting directions he would take as an actor in later films.

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