Where The Buffalo Roam

Where The Buffalo Roam

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Where The Buffalo Roam

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While Terry Gilliam's recent adaptation of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas had its share of problems, it was an honest and audacious attempt to do justice to an important, seemingly unfilmable book. As such, it had a sort of unimpeachable integrity that came close to making up for its shortcomings as a coherent, watchable narrative. But Where The Buffalo Roam, the 1980 semi-biopic of Hunter S. Thompson recently reissued in a letterboxed format, has all the faults and none of the strengths of Gilliam's film. A failed attempt to convert the "legend" of Thompson into a populist, crowd-pleasing comedy, Buffalo stars Bill Murray as the godfather of Gonzo journalism and Peter Boyle as his attorney and/or alter ego, Lazlo. Operating less as a standard biopic than a nearly plotless series of vignettes covering some of the better-known highlights of Thompson's career, Where The Buffalo Roam attempts to boil his troublesome history down to its crowd-pleasing, Murray-vehicle-conducive essence: Thompson was and is, after all, a drug-addled, nonconformist slob who aggravated a number of uptight snobs. Consequently, whenever things get a little slow, the film just cuts to a reaction shot of an uptight square fuming humorously and shaking his fist in disgust at Murray's antics. Filmed without a trace of visual style by hotshot producer Art Linson (Fast Times At Ridgemont High, The Untouchables), Where The Buffalo Roam, in trying to please both Thompson fans and Murray fans, mostly pleases neither. The former will likely be disgusted at the way Linson and screenwriter John Kaye reduce Thompson's life work to a series of erratic, slapstick skits, while fans of Murray's lowbrow, laconic shtick aren't likely to take to the film's confused, incoherent structure and leaden pace. As a time capsule and a failed attempt to sell Thompson's legacy to the masses, Buffalo has its share of curiosity value. But as a piece of filmmaking, it's pretty worthless.

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