The Rum Diary
Dark & Stormy Entertainment
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
Ever since his first cinematic venture into Hunter S. Thompson territory in Terry Gilliam’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Johnny Depp has been a fan of, and up until his death in 2005, a friend to his fellow Kentuckian Thompson. Making a proper tribute film to his friend has always been high on Depp’s list, and he has finally done so by producing The Rum Diary, based on a novel by Thompson.
It’s set in 1960 San Juan, Puerto Rico. Failed novelist Paul Kemp, the alter ego of Thompson, tries his had at working for a failing newspaper in order to gain some journalistic perspective in search of his purpose in life. Along the way he encounters an unethical editor, unethical real estate developers, unethical politicians… well, you get the idea. And the whole scenario is soaked in the typical Thompson oeuvre of booze, drugs and nicotine, which, combined with the heat and sweat of the island almost emits a combined stench from the screen. This is definitely one film that would not have benefited from “Smell-O-Vision.”
Depp is ok in the role, although he’s too old for it. There are some excellent character actors along for the ride including Michael Rispoli, from HBO’s The Sopranos, Oscar-nominee Richard Jenkins, Giovani Ribisi, and Aaron Eckhart. Amber Heard, who looked really familiar, plays the requisite femme fatale of the piece. In checking her credits, I discovered she co-starred in one of last year’s worst films, Drive Angry. One of these days, she may do better for herself… but not yet.
The real problem with The Rum Diary is two-fold. First, it doesn’t know if it wants to be a comedy, a social commentary, a drama about journalism and corruption, or an exercise in exalting the excesses of its characters. If you saw the trailer and thought, “hey, that looks funny,” rest assured that all the funny stuff is in the trailer. In the course of all this cinematic schizophrenia, the film appears to have been heavily edited and some things make no connective sense.
The other problem is the pacing. The first hour seemed to move along okay, but then the proceedings became bogged down, much like a three-legged turtle in a stream of molasses. The second hour, and change, seemed interminable, like there was to be no escape from the theatre.
Granted, Johnny Depp has a huge legion of fans that will follow him anywhere. And Hunter S. Thompson has a huge legion of fans that hang on every word by the celebrated Gonzo Journalist as if they are witness to an important, life-changing pronouncement. Those two factions are enough to get a decent showing at the box office for this film.
For those among us who don’t really “get it,” The Rum Diary will cause you to shake your head in puzzlement. Worst of all, once the end credits start rolling, chances are you will likely want to immediately take a long, hot shower with strong soap in an attempt to wash away the experience.
The R-rated The Rum Diary is now on screen at a theatre near you.