Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion
Following in the footsteps of Where the Buffalo Roam and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas comes the latest novel-turned-film from late author / gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary.
The story concerns aspiring novelist Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp), hired onto a sinking ship of a newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Set at the beginning of the 1960s, not only is the fight against communism in full swing but rampant greed is on the rise as Americans look to cash in on the beautiful island before anyone else can.
To that effect, a small consortium of big shots, with so-called PR consultant Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) as their talking head, is hoping to use Depp’s talents as a writer to help secure the rights to build a hotel on a soon to be available island nearby. And the Puerto Rican people are upset about jobs and wages. And Sanderson’s trophy girlfriend, Chenault (Amber Heard), has a thing for Kemp (and vice-versa). And the editor of the newspaper (Richard Jenkins) might be a crook. And the eternally drunk crime & religion reporter (Giovanni Ribisi) might be the smartest man on the island. And … well, you’re getting tired of “And” aren’t you?
The film completed principle photography about three years ago. 3 YEARS AGO. That’s a bad sign 99.999% of the time and most certainly in this case, with an end result that makes the probably countless edits and tinkering painfully obvious. The listed runtime is an already too long 120 minutes that mysteriously feels more like some 3-hour epic (of tediousness). Looking for positives, the acting is fine and there are a few very funny bits but the aimless nature of the picture, with loads of metaphors and symbolism coming across as either half-hearted or over-the-top, simply make it all a very flat and unentertaining experience.
The entire movie feels like reading a very dry novel, with all of the subplots and nuances either stripped down or included without the faintest care in the world whether or not it helps the overall story. Recruiting Kemp to help with the hotel scheme takes far too long only to see the specific elements become completely irrelevant. The budding romance between Chenault and Kemp feels somehow both central and tangential all at the same time. The buddy-buddy antics between Kemp and the newspaper’s photographer (Michael Rispoli) have a “Fear and Loathing” vibe, which is both at odds with the film as a whole and fits in nicely at times. Can you tell things are hit and miss?
It’s no surprise Depp wanted to have another of Thompson’s novels made into a film. However, there should have come a time in the last three years that this scattered mess of a film was jettisoned straight to DVD or basic cable. Subjecting people to $54 movie tickets on the promise of Depp being Depp is just cruel. And while I never quite reached the point of wanting to walk out on The Rum Diary, had I been at home, the channel would have been changed long before the credits rolled.
The Rum Diary was directed by Bruce Robinson and is rated R for language, brief drug use and sexuality.