Friday, April 25, 2014

For No Good Reason: Steadman and Depp Drink Coffee & Chat

They are part of the Hunter S. Thompson mafia. That means they get together from time to time to sign limited collectibles, as good non-conformists are apt to do. There will be no fear or loathing when Johnny Depp pays a social call on counter-culture artist Ralph Steadman in Charlie Paul’s star-struck doc For No Good Reason (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Fate brought Steadman and Thompson together when the illustrator accompanied the gonzo writer on an assignment to cover the Kentucky Derby—and lived to tell about it. His Rolling Stone illustrations created the signature Thompson look. Naturally, his relationship with the pride of Aspen was rather stormy, but it led to a more stable friendship with Depp, whose pre-Transcendence box office clout was surely instrumental helping Reason get off the ground.

At least nobody can accuse Depp of being full of himself at any time during the film. Essentially, he politely sips whatever beverage is put in front of him, while occasionally mumbling “that was great, Ralph,” or some such fannish interjection.

There intriguing moments in Reason, particularly when Steadman whips up an original painting for the camera. Paul also cleverly incorporates elements of Steadman’s baroque grotesquerie into film, even taking liberties with the familiar blue Sony Classics logo (which must earn it a tiny footnote someplace in cinema history). Unfortunately, Paul largely focuses on Steadman’s more didactic work, under-representing his literary illustrations, while scrupulously ignoring the glaring disconnect between Steadman’s radical art and his idyllic country estate.

When Steadman tells his Thompson stories, it is still entertaining, even if his fans already know how they go, much like a 1960’s rock group performing their greatest hits. Content to play to the Gonza fanbase, Paul makes no effort to convert new admirers. As a result, Reason never transcends its narrow cult appeal. Harmless but shallow, For No Good Reason opens today (4/25) in New York at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema.