THE RUM DIARY
Too Much Booze, Not Enough Story
Release Date: October 28, 2011
Runtime: 120 minutes
Director: Bruce Robinson
Writer: Bruce Robinson
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The alcohol laced tone for THE RUM DIARY is set right from the start when journalist Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) wakes up in his San Juan, Puerto Rico hotel room with a monumental hangover after a night of hard drinking. It is 1960, or thereabouts, and Kemp has an interview with Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), the jagged editor of the San Juan Star. The Star is an English language newspaper that’s been failing for a number of years and is on the verge of closing its doors unless a miracle takes place to keep it alive. Kemp, to that point a rudderless alcoholic who’s trying to find his writing bearings within a seemingly unending drinking binge, is Lotterman’s last hope. As unlikely as this scenario may be, the expectation is for Kemp to breath some new life into the paper with a fresh journalistic approach, but it only takes one whiff of his 100 proof breath to make that possibility a long shot at best.
To get his feet wet in this new environment, Kemp is given the horoscope column and the bowling alleys where fat cruise ship tourists from the mainland congregate. To acquaint him with his new duties, Lotterman assigns Sala (Michael Rispoli), one of the paper’s photographers, to show Kemp around and find him a place to stay. Sala, who somewhat of a jovial showboat, is also a cockfight promoter on the side, and rooms with Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi). Moburg is the crime correspondent who doesn’t do his job, keeps 78 rpm records of Hitler’s speeches, and engages in every weird pursuit imaginable, except work. A rather peculiar trio is formed when Kemp eventually winds up rooming with the other two in an old dilapidated apartment.
Completing this increasingly weird cast, Kemp meets Chenault (Amber Heard) on his first night in San Juan. Chenault is a beautiful blond who’s all sensuality and no intellect. Of course, Kemp immediately falls madly in love with her, and one can only wonder, is it love or is it the rum? But, not so fast. Chenault happens to be Hal Sanderson’s girlfriend. Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) is a fast talking tycoon with very powerful contacts who’s planning to make a killing by building a multimillion dollar resort in the paradisiacal Puerto Rican island of Vieques, just across the water from San Juan.
While Kemp is taking an interest in Chenault, Sanderson is taking an interest in Kemp, whom he thinks can generate positive momentum by writing favorable copy for the project. As Kemp begins to discern the wide disparity between Sanderson’s greed and opulent wealth, and the widespread poverty in Puerto Rico, he also begins to glimpse a purpose for his writing, namely to point out wrongs and fight for justice. At this point, however, it may be too late to save the paper, but worse still, too late to save the movie.
Based on the first novel of deceased writer Hunter S. Thompson, THE RUM DIARY no doubt has some charm. The movie has several really hilarious scenes, while Rispoli and Ribisi are very likeable in their respective roles as Sala and Moburg. Amber Heard as Chenault is as beautiful as she is sensual, but completely shallow and somewhat distant. Eckhart as Sanderson is, of course, predictably ruthless and greedy. In fact, it’s made abundantly clear by director/writer Bruce Robinson that the ones who drink themselves into a stupor, take hallucinogenic drugs, and curse all day long, are the good guys, and the greedy, racist, ruthless ones, are Republicans. Well, as the church lady in an old Saturday Night show would have said, “Isn’t that special?”
The bottom line is that novelist Thompson’s cynical approach to the world does not bring much relief, nor insight to the audience through this work. Thus, Director Robinson misses a great opportunity to turn Thompson’s jaundiced perspective into a funny, clean movie, and still send a positive message. In the end, viewers are left with a totally unsatisfying ending and the tenuous promise that Depp’s character will be able to continue to pierce through the vapors of his rum soaked mind, straighten out, and use whatever writing skills he still has in the pursuit of justice. It’s a promise that’s hard to take seriously, especially since RUM DIARY has plenty of gratuitous foul language and abundant alcohol abuse, as well as some lewd, explicit content, to go along with its socialist, anti-capitalist worldview.
THE RUM DIARY has several really hilarious scenes, but there’s not enough story to sustain it. Also, it becomes clear that the ones who drink themselves into a stupor, take drugs, and curse all day long are the good guys, and the greedy, racist, ruthless ones are Republican businessmen. THE RUM DIARY also has plenty of gratuitous foul language and abundant alcohol abuse, as well as some lewd content, to go along with this socialist, anti-capitalist worldview.