The Rum Diary” is a big pipe dream of a film — fun to watch, but a bit disconnected, strung together by the endless promise of booze, sex and drugs.
Directed by Bruce Robinson (his first film since 1992’s “Jennifer Eight”), “The Rum Diary” is based on the novel of the same name by late gonzo journalist and famed drug-addled writer, Hunter S. Thompson.
The film stars Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp, a rambling journalist leaving New York to write for a flailing newspaper in Puerto Rico in the early 1960s. Once there, he realizes that the country is full of protests, poverty and pain, not to mention copious amounts of rum.
He meets Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart, “The Dark Knight”), a suave, rich man about town who also happens to be quite corrupt. Kemp goes along with Sanderson’s smooth-talking ways in order to get close to his fiancée, Chenault (Amber Heard, “Zombieland”).
All the while, he gets close to Sala (Michael Rispoli, “Kick-Ass”), a journalist more interested in having fun, getting drunk, doing drugs and throwing down bets in cock fights, rather than writing stories.
The acting and cinematography were fantastic, but it was a shame that the movie felt so disparate and poorly put together. There’s a rambling aspect to it, as though the entire film was propelling itself to some sort of grandiose, dramatic ending that never really happened.
Though it might be cruel to say the movie had no point, it truly managed to develop a random plotline that viewers couldn’t have gotten invested in, even if they tried.
However, Depp does a fantastic job playing Kemp, never taking himself too seriously. He elicits laughs from the audience with mere facial ticks and cleverly muttered one-liners.
Yet, the best acting in the film was from Giovanni Ribisi (“Avatar”), who played Moburg, a hopelessly decrepit drug addict who walked with a hunched over shuffle and spoke in a grating, slurred voice.
Moburg was one of the most interesting characters in the film, albeit the most useless. He moped around town, sniffing out grain alcohol and insanely illegal drugs (like one liquid that caused horrific hallucinations and could only be ingested by squeezing little drops into the user’s eyeball).
Heard is super seductive as Chenault, slithering around the film in tiny dresses, with overly tan skin, berry red lips and ice blonde locks. Her character was almost a modern Marilyn Monroe: doe-eyed and delicate with a slight wild streak, but hanging on foolishly to the arms of powerful men in order to sustain her lifestyle.
“The Rum Diary” ended up feeling like more of a trippy dark comedy, though it never really delved deeply into the darkness that hovered in the shadows of the film.
There were plenty of nonsensical scenes that offered comedic relief, like the one where Sala and Kemp were forced to ride on each other’s laps when their car got completely ruined by thieving locals.
In addition, the cinematography is breathtaking, taking every advantage of the beautiful beaches and buildings that Puerto Rico had to offer.
While the film didn’t end up delivering any sort of point or plotline that the audience could grasp, the script was full of Thompson-penned jewels. In one scene where Kemp thinks about the debauchery he’s gotten himself into (including a fire fight and getting arrested) he wonders to himself, “How the hell did I get here? I could blame the job, the booze — but the truth is even more outrageous.”
If only the film could have managed to deliver some of that outrageousness.
Though “The Rum Diary” tries to shock, excite and tantalize the audience, it just ends up fizzling out thanks to promising a thousand different things and delivering on almost none.