The Rum Diary * * 1/2

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Director: Bruce Robinson.
Screenplay: Bruce Robinson.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi, Amaury Nolasco, Marshall Bell, Bill Smitrovich.

The last adaptation of a Hunter S. Thompson novel was Terry Gilliam’s “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas“. It had the talent in front of and behind the camera but ended up a real mixed-bag. This second adaptation by “Withnail And I” director Bruce Robinson, again, looks like it’s in good hands but doesn’t fair much better.

In San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1960, Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) gets a job on a local newspaper. He also rooms up with fellow reporter Bob Sala (Michael Rispoli) and gets a little too indulgent in drugs and alcohol. Another job falls his way though, from local, ruthless businessman Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who hires him to do some public relations work on a secret hotel development that will undoubtedly exploit the natives. Kemp soon finds out that everyone on this island is pretty much out for themselves.

Fear and Loathing…” didn’t have a coherent storyline and suffered because of it. This plays out Hunter S. Thompson’s story in a more tame and linear fashion but even this doesn’t work. Maybe Thompson is just one of those writers whose prose don’t transfer well to the screen. On this evidence, that would seem to be the case. It keeps threatening to deliver some chaotic behaviour from it’s drug and alcohol induced characters but never follows through. Instead, it meanders and ultimately ends up a real slog. This is surprising, as Robinson had covered similar ground with the boozy eccentricity of “Withnail And I“, yet he never really gets a handle on this one. The performances are good; Depp can do these off-beat characters in his sleep and there is fine support from Rispoli as his new friend and drinking partner. The highlights come from two of my favourite supporting actors though, in Richard Jenkins and Giovanni Ribisi. Jenkins, as always, is a treat as the short-tempered editor, throwing out line after line of sharp dialogue, adding much of the humour in the early part of the film. He soon disappears from view though which leaves it up to Ribisi to flourish. He’s the most interesting character, as a crazed and constantly drug-idled reporter, but unfortunately, he never really gets let loose the way he should.

It depicts both the glitz and the grime of Puerto Rico and has all the makings of a lunacy filled adventure but, sadly, doesn’t live up to expectations. Director Robinson hadn’t made a film for nearly 20 years… it shows.

Mark Walker

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14 Responses to “The Rum Diary * * 1/2”

  1. I wanted to see this but it seems a bit underwhelming which is too bad because I prefer Depp in realistic roles. Great post!

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  2. i’m glad you reviewed it Mark, its a decent film that should really have been let loose but meandered at the vital time. I did like it and reviewed it more favourably but it firmly sits in the ‘disappointing’ category. great review.

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  3. Great review, Mark! By now (I mean since he became super-famous post-Pirates) I actually think Depp just phones in his performances.

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    • Youre right Fernando. Depp is always good but he’s in danger of becoming a bit samey. A lot of his performances seem to be channeling the same off-the-wall approach. We all know he can do it but I’d like something a bit different now.

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      • My favorite performance of his as of late was in Sweeney Todd. My least favorite: his dreadful Mad Hatter. Hopefully he changes it up for Dark Shadows (which I don’t think he will).

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      • I actually enjoyed him as the mad hatter but I’d probably say his understated performance in Finding Neverland was a favourite of mine. He was excellent in Sweeney Todd also though.

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  4. I still need to see this. I love Fear and Loathing in book and film form but you’re right about Hunter’s writing not being easily translatable.
    This film should have been a labor of love but nothing I’ve seen makes me believe that. Even Depp seemed uninterested in all the promos.
    Great review, Mark

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    • Overall, I didn’t find that Fear and Loathing worked but there was still plenty to enjoy. At the start of this, it looked liked it could be even better but it petered out.

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  5. Boasts a highly impressive cast and contains some great touches, but it’s too long by a half hour and meanders severely in its second half. Nice review Mark.

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  6. sanclementejedi Says:

    I really like Fear and Loathing and felt this film was a bit of a letdown. Its interesting to me that you did not care that much for it either and also thought Fear and Loathing was a bit of let down. I was thinking my review of the film might have been overly influenced by my appreciation for the F&L but now I am not so sure.
    nice post

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    • Yeah, Fear and Loathing wasn’t all bad. I still took some enjoyment from it but this one was a different story altogether. Why would they set you up for something that looks like it going to spiral out of control and then not deliver.? This could have been much better.

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      • sanclementejedi Says:

        Agreed that was the lamest looking getting high and drunk I have seen on film. They made it look as fun as a trip to the dentist.

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