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With: Ralph Steadman, Johnny Depp, Hunter S. Thompson, Terry Gilliam, Richard E. Grant, Jann Wenner, Hal Willner
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Charlie Paul
MPAA Rating: R for language, some drug content and brief sexual images
Running Time: 89
Date: 05/02/2014

For No Good Reason (2014)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Gonzo Art

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I was already a fan of Ralph Steadman when I saw this new documentary, though I mostly knew him as the guy who provided art for Hunter S. Thompson's books and articles. He provides a great animated menu on the Criterion Collection's DVD release of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and I even have a wine bottle with a Ralph Steadman label on it. It's not hard to recognize his style, brutishly splayed, yet funny.

Charlie Paul's new documentary For No Good Reason goes so far as to describe Steadman as the opposite of Thompson. Steadman is an Englishman, and nowhere near as volatile or reckless as Thompson, but still has his share of orneriness. Using still photographs, some cutesy gimmicks, and approval from guest Johnny Depp, the film tells the story of Steadman's meeting Thompson and about the first drawings he supplied.

However, in hitching its wagon to Thompson, the documentary doesn't dig very deep into just who Steadman was, apart from Thompson. Depp's presence doesn't help either, since Depp was known to have been a personal friend of Thompson, not to mention someone who paid tribute to him in Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) as well as Bruce Robinson's underrated The Rum Diary (2011). I'm sure Depp came to know Steadman through Thompson, but the association is still there.

Richard E. Grant, the star of Robinson's cult classic Withnail & I (1987) shows up to be briefly interviewed. Steadman provided a poster for that film, and also did an art piece around Grant, which is somewhat interesting.

The movie's most interesting sequence shows Steadman creating a new painting from scratch, revealing his process of splattering ink, finding a shape to it, and then obliterating it again, and finding a shape again. We also discover that he's enough of an icon that he makes a very, very good living selling signed, numbered prints of his works.

I don't think I would recommend this movie to anyone who doesn't already know who Steadman is. It's just not as revealing about Steadman and his work as, say, Penn and Teller's recent documentary Tim's Vermeer is about Vermeer. This is a fan film. I'm a fan, too, so I enjoyed it. Indeed, I feel a small connection to this world. In my early days at the San Francisco Examiner, I was lucky enough to work with the legendary, hardscrabble newspaper editor Dave Burgin, who knew Thompson and arranged to have Thompson's loopy sports columns published at the same time as my movie reviews.

No, I never met Thompson, but I do understand Depp's fascination with this world, as well as director Charlie Paul's fascination with it. I understand their dedication to try and make something as "Gonzo" as Thompson and Steadman might have made. But either the time just isn't right anymore, or the talent just isn't there. I'd like to believe it's the time. It's too bad that For No Good Reason couldn't have provided some kind of insight on that and other questions.

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