Written by / 10/29/2011 / No comments / , , ,

THE RUM DIARY

title: THE RUM DIARY
year: 2011
cast: Johnny Depp, Michael Rispoli, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard
rating: *1/2

By the film's intentional anti-climax we learn that Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote THE RUM DIARY about his stint as a journalist in Puerto Rico in 1960, would go onto better things, taking on all the “bastards” he let slip by in his youth. The problem is, there’s none in this movie worth troubling over, or for the audience to root against. Which means Johnny Depp’s Paul Kemp (Thompson with a fake name) has nothing for an audience to root for: other than he’s a popular actor that played a pirate who loved rum, and so does this character. (Every time Depp mentions drinking, he’s practically winking at the audience.) Doing the same Walter Cronkite mumble from FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, Johnny’s performance is so low-key it hardly registers at all. His porky photographer sidekick Sala (Michael Rispoli) has more interesting and memorable qualities since he’s sloppy and somewhat humorous. But in this film, there’s a lack of anything meaningful beneath the surface... which is an existential odyssey misadventure, sort of... yet it sporadically plants a political flag; but other than clips of Nixon, or shots of poor people being exploited, there's nothing substantial to hold onto. The "plot" has Kemp hired as a journalist at a fledgling Puerto Rico newspaper, with the task of making the country seem like an accessible tourist trap, and then conned by a millionaire to be his propagandist – a man who seems nice at first, but has his eyes on turning the gorgeous exterior into a real estate landmine. He has a sexy girlfriend who Kemp lusts after, leading to a brief romance more lacking in chemistry than the film does purpose. As a Thompson fan, and having read his posthumous novel, it’s an understandably difficult work to base a movie on. Making it that much more annoying when cinematic clich├ęs – like the scruffy underdogs battling the greedy rich guys, or a drug trip that too easily propels a creative edge – are shoved at the screen: turning a subtle book never intended for publication into a ponderous film trying way too hard to make a point: whatever that might be.
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