The Rum Diary (Bruce Robinson) 2011

Production Budget: $45 million

Worldwide Gross: $24 million

A little over a decade after Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas we get a sort of semi-autobiographical prequel starring the same actor.  Normally I would say somthing about an actor 13 years older playing someone younger than the last movie looking off but Johnny Depp apparently feeds off the young to keep his youthful appearance so we are all good.  Now I haven’t read Hunter Thompson’s books yet.  In terms of alcoholic drug abusing writers I’ve been too busy with Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Charles Bukowski.  My plate is full on reading material but I only bring it up to say I have no idea if this movie is faithful to the source material or even if the source material was good to begin with.  The only point of reference I have is seeing Fear and Loathing so here we go.

The trailers for this movie were not very good in that I was left wondering what the hell this movie was about.  Sure, it had Johnny Depp doing wacky shenanigans, but was there any point to it?  It all felt directionless and after watching the movie it is reasonable to say it is not the trailer’s fault.  The movie is about Thompson stand in Paul Kemp (Depp) who is taking a job for a newspaper in Puerto Rico.  The newspaper is losing money and the boss Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) is looking to shut it down.  Two of the newspapers workers, Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi) and Sala (Michael Rispoli) give Kemp a place to stay and they become good friends.  Meanwhile, Kemp gets into a shady deal with local landowner Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) and falls for his girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard).  Despite that rather longwinded summary of what happens in the film, it is strange how unfocused everything is.  There is no main conflict driving the plot so we drift from one subplot to the next.  We get Kemp boozing it up, then we have him trying to write for the paper and making Lotterman happy, then we booze it up more, then we meet Sanderson, then booze, then romance with Chenault, booze, Sanderson, booze, Lotterman, booze, booze, Sanderson, Chenault, booze, booze, end credits.

There is a point to it all, but it is buried under so much crap it is hard to care.  Rum Diary is supposed to be about the turning point in Thompson’s life.  This is where he gains his attitude to the “bastards“ of the world and gains his literary voice.  The problem is none of it is given the time or the attention it deserves.  Thompson is supposed to be disgusted at the commercialization and exploitation of Puerto Rico and how it is screwing over the natives and Sanderson is the personification of that.  However we do not feel that Sanderson is some Gordon Gecko with his business deals and we aren’t left asking “How much is enough?“  Instead Sanderson is played like, well, a douchebag.  All we see of him being “evil“ is him being a jerk to natives and controlling of his girlfriend.  Being a tool is not restricted to certain wage brackets and while we feel like Sanderson is a jerk, we don’t connect with the larger point that Thompson is trying to make.  What should be a rallying cry against the greedy and the unethical and the immoral falls flat because it’s not so much about Sanderson’s agenda but because he kicks Chenault out of the house.  All the while, Kemp is little more than an observer to the events going on.  Kemp may object to Sanderson building a hotel under unethical methods but he is more than happy to take his money and lounge on his boat.  The final confrontation falls flat because there is none.  We are supposed to feel something triumphant at the end because Kemp found his voice but you lose a bit of that feeling when you realize he failed utterly in everything he tried to achieve on Puerto Rico.

But again, that is giving too much thought to a plot which is more of a subplot.  Much of this movie feels like time filler.  There is no point to the Kemp/Chenault romance, there is no point to Lotterman, there is no point to the newspaper, and there is no point to Kemp putzing around with Sala.  Now to give the movie credit, not everything necessarily needs a point and the scenes with Kemp and Sala are the best parts of the movie.  Depp and Rispoli have a good chemistry and the hijinks they get into are very funny at times.  Those scenes were a breath of fresh air because at least then the writers were simply trying to be entertaining rather than fumbling around with other ambitions.

The acting by Depp is solid as usual and as mentioned before Rispoli does a good job.  Jenkins and Eckhart aren’t given roles worthy of their time so don’t bother seeing the movie for them.  Amber Heard gives probably the surprise performance as Chenault who has some nice banter with Depp.  The absolute worst is Giovanni Ribisi who seems in his latest movies to be competing for most annoying asshat (this character is probably second place to his annoying asshat in Contraband).

This movie is not so much bad as it is forgettable.  While Depp can be funny at times, it doesn’t feel worth it with the meandering story spread out over two hours (which feels much longer).  I doubt Thompson fans will get much out of this movie as it seems the themes are poorly handled.  This may fill your needs on an extremely dull day but not for much more than that.


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