The Rum Diary

The Rum Diary

Directed by: Bruce Robinson
Cast: Johnny Depp, Michael Rispoli, Giovanni Ribisi, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard
Running Time: 2 hrs
Rating: R
Release Date: October 28, 2011

PLOT: Journalist Paul Kemp (Depp) takes on a job in Puerto Rico for a newspaper in 1960, and he struggles to find balance between the class systems.

WHO’S IT FOR? Are you a U.S. history buff? This gives you the chance to get a glimpse of Puerto Rico in 1960 and Hunter S. Thompson before he truly is THE Hunter S. Thompson.

OVERALL

Yes channel AMC, I liked the premiere episode of your new TV show “The Rum Diary” and I will watch the whole season. Oh, wait (pretend I am a news anchor and I’m holding my ear piece to indicate my producer is telling me late, great, breaking news … just go with it), I’m being told “The Rum Diary” is actually a movie, so we’ll need to change that to The Rum Diary. Hmmm, a movie and not a first episode. That does change things. Now that I think about it, I guess it makes sense since I did see this on the big screen. It also explains how you were able to get Johnny Depp in the lead. It doesn’t really make sense for him to head back to the small screen. More importantly, the reason Depp is in The Rum Diary is to once again embody the words/spirit/man Hunter S. Thompson.

The first time Depp stepped into the Thompson shoes was as Raoul Duke with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Somehow in that film he seemed older, and most defiantly crazier than he comes across in The Rum Diary.

Even though the film is set in early 1960s Puerto Rico, the message is most definitely relevant in today’s Occupy Wall Street ways. The people are upset. The white people don’t care, and just want to keep cashing in on a paradise. Kemp (Depp) seems to keep getting thrown in over his head with these crazy times. He’s down south because he’s a willing newspaper man. At first it’s simply enough that he updates the horoscopes and interviews people at the bowling alleys. That doesn’t seem to be enough. Seem should be the focused word there, because we have to assume many of Kemp’s motivations.

Unfortunately, The Rum Diary suffers from simply hanging out. It truly does feel like it’s setting the stage for a full season of episodes. Beyond Depp’s Kemp who is almost a drunk blank slate looking to be filled, we have Aaron Eckhart as Sanderson. He’s a tycoon. Honestly, that’s all the explaining needed with him. It’s not Eckhart’s best work, it’s not his worst. Amber Heard plays Chenault. She’s Sanderson’s lady because she’s hot. Unfortunately, there’s no personality to match. I actually liked the force she brought to the screen in Drive Angry. Here, she looks good but you can only see lust in Kemp’s eyes for her, not love. Giovanni Ribisi as Moburg is a train wreck of a man who’s truly fun to watch. It’s probably what most of us thought Depp’s performance would be like since he’s channeling Thompson. Moburg listens to Hitler on vinyl, drinks poison and spews logic. He also disappears for long stretches, leaving Sala (Michael Rispoli) and Kemp to explore the island.

Robinson was able to capture the look of the era and location, but that’s something we expect on the big and small screen with anything that has a reasonable budget. I didn’t know what I wanted out of the characters. I didn’t know what Kemp wanted out of his life. I was left with the era and people. Those people involve a very underutilized cast of characters who ran the newspaper including Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) as the man in charge.

Kemp doesn’t chase after, and spit out life until the end of the film. Before that, he just floats. Yes, that gives us colorful moments, but they don’t really gel together. They visit a witch doctor, have a run-in with the locals, cock fight, drink rum, enjoy a parade, and it all feels random, like they’re setting the stage instead of telling a story.

Depp gives a reserved performance and only occasionally spills Hunter knowledge and dialogue like “blizzard of shame” and “lies like he breathes.” It’s not “ink & rage,” it’s the prequel to it. Again, I’d watch the TV show, but they didn’t nail it as a stand alone movie.

FINAL SCORE: 6/10

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