The Rum Diary

5 Dec

Title: The Rum Diary
Year: 2011
Director: Bruce Robinson
Writer: Bruce Robinson, based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi
MPAA Rating: R, language, brief drug use and sexuality
Runtime: 120 min
Major Awards: –
IMDb Rating: 6.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 51%

Well this certainly was a long time coming. The film was originally to be made way back in 2000, as eternal Hunter S. Thompson fanboy, and a friend of late, great author, Johnny Depp came on board, as did Nick Nolte. But the film got stuck in development hell, causing Thompson to write one of his insanely awesome angry letters denouncing the project as a “waterhead fuckaround”. 2002 came and another studio took a stab at it, with Benicio del Toro and Josh Hartnett on board, that went nowhere as well. 2007 came and producer Graham King got attached, fresh off his Best Picture win for The Departed, and Mr. Depp got back on board, taking on producing duties as well, and the cast and crew started fleshing out itself and in March 2009 principal photography began in Puerto Rico. Two and a half years after that and we finally got the movie out in theaters. Like I said, it was a long time coming.

Was it worth the wait, though? Well, actually, no. I mean, don’t get me wrong, The Rum Diary is a perfectly fine film, totally entertaining and I would certainly recommend it to anyone that wants to spend a couple of hours watching Johnny Depp tackle a role created by a dear friend of his. Because the film is indeed entertaining and you can just tell that Mr. Depp was having a blast shooting it if only because it meant inhabiting a world created by a guy that seems like a kindred spirit of his, especially considering that the last couple of live-action films we’ve seen of his have been the very disappointing The Tourist (which I gave a C+ to) and the fourth installment of his Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (which I also gave a C+). But as fun as it may be to see this guy do his thing here, I just didn’t think The Rum Diary did justice to the guy who created the source material for it, nor was it worth an eleven-year wait.

Really, this is the kind of film that can actually do without a super awesome narrative and just coast by on style and atmosphere alone, and even though Mr. Depp is so clearly up to task to get his freak on and really amp this one the whole film really doesn’t live up to the gonzo heights it should have in order to be a slam dunk, even if you can tell this was done with Mr. Depp’s heart in the best of places to bring forth to the screen a tribute to the friend he admired so much.

When you see Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was the first time Mr. Depp stepped into Hunter S. Thompson’s shoes, no matter what you think of the film itself, you have to acknowledge that it was definitely a film that was made like Thompson himself would have done it. It was visually crazy, full of psychedelic moments that were there to send your mind buzzing away, and when the author himself watched the film he admitted he liked how freakish it was and how it sent him back to those times. And even though his friend Mr. Depp also does a fine job here, one would have to believe Hunter S. Thompson wouldn’t have been so over the moon with this film, as it’s just a super tame version of his novel that doesn’t bring across the passion that, for good or bad, everything he wrote was bursting with.

Johnny Depp once again is in charge of playing the alter-ego of the author, Paul Kemp, a journalist who indulges in quite a few excesses. He works for a newspaper, the San Juan Star, one that has striking union workers and an editor-in-chief (played by Richard Jenkins, another awesome guy)  who seemingly couldn’t care less about it all, so naturally Paul will drink on the job and just write down stuff to fill in blank pages in the paper. Paul eventually meets Aaron Eckhart’s character, Hal, an American entrepreneur who has everything Paul wants in life, a kick-ass mansion, a great sports car and gorgeous girl, played by Amber Heard, who’s actually seen eyeing Paul, so maybe he’ll at least get her. Hal’s the villain of the story, a guy who wants to ran a scheme on the island, building a luxurious resort and who wants Paul to be a part of his plan.

What happens then is Mr. Depp getting into full Thompson-mode, with Michael Rispoli playing a sidekick to him (he’s every bit as good as Mr. Depp here), and there are scenes of just drinking and blabbering that will no doubt be loved by Thompson fanatics. And one would think that the result would then be something awesome to watch, especially when you consider that director Bruce Robinson has had some experience with excesses himself (admitting to having fallen off the wagon whilst shooting this film), and even though the parts in which Paul is struggling to find, and keep himself grounded around, his moral center are fun, for the most part it also feels just aimless, not getting us to invest in the characters or in their trips. This is a Thompson tribute, for sure, and you can see a bit of the great, late author in here, but you’ll leave this film wanting to have seen much more.

Grade: B

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