The Rum Diary Review
By Rich Cline
Depp's Hunter S Thompson fixation continues with the adaptation of this loosely autobiographical novel. Despite some crazy antics, the film takes an earnest, slightly too-faithful tone that makes it strangely leaden.
In 1960, Kemp (Depp) applies for a job at the San Juan Star in Puerto Rico, working for the sardonic editor Lotterman (Jenkins). He shares a ramshackle flat with photographer Sala (Rispoli), who home-brews super-strong rum with another journalist (Ribisi). While getting slowly pickled, Kemp also gets to know the fast-talking Sanderson (Eckhart), a public relations expert who is using property developers to increase his fortune. Sanderson also has a sexy girlfriend, Chenault (Heard), who immediately catches Kemp's eye. Trouble is brewing everywhere.
The film is a series of comical set pieces that mix slapstick farce with alcohol-blurred encounters with thugs and cops. They even try an early form of acid. Meanwhile, Kemp is caught up in Sanderson's scheme to make a fortune by destroying a pristine nearby island. But can he break the story before the newspaper goes under? Yes, there are several big issues gurgling around, and the filmmakers are keen to address everything.
So it's impossible to escape the feeling that we're being preached at. The film almost feels like a manifesto for the Church of Hunter S Thompson, as the focus is on what pushed Thompson to adopt his signature stand of not letting big business and politicians get away with lying to and stealing from the public.
And Depp would be the church's first pope, since he of course also starred in the film of Thompson's Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, narrated the Thompson doc Gonzo and essentially played Rango as Thompson.
At least this film is packed with entertaining sequences, some real chemistry between Depp and Heard, terrific performances (the shifty Jenkins is the standout, with Ribisi's over-acting the weak link) and some glorious settings that should boost Puerto Rico tourism. But by emphatically making each point and packing in so many wacky but irrelevant incidents, the film begins to drag in the second half. A tighter approach to storytelling would have provided a stronger kick. As would letting Thompson speak for himself without punching every theme.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 28th October 2011
Box Office Worldwide: $24M
Distributed by: The Film District
Production compaines: FilmEngine, GK Films, Infinitum Nihil
Rotten Tomatoes: 50%
Fresh: 80 Rotten: 80
Cast & Crew
Starring: Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp, Amber Heard as Chenault, Aaron Eckhart as Sanderson, Giovanni Ribisi as Moberg, Richard Jenkins as Lotterman, Amaury Nolasco as Segurra, Marshall Bell as Donavon, Bill Smitrovich as Zimburger, Julian Holloway as Wolsley, Enzo Cilenti as Digby, Aaron Lustig as Monk, Natalia Rivera as Chenault's Friend