The Rum Diary * * 1/2
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.