Genre: Drama, Adaptation
Opens locally Friday, October 28th, 2011 (check for showtimes)
Run Time: 2 hours, Rated R
Starring: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Giovanni Ribisi, Amber Heard, Michael Rispoli, Richard Jenkins
Written (adapted) & Directed by Bruce Robinson (Jennifer Eight, Withnail & I)
“The Rum Diary” is a long-awaited adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson book of the same name. Thompson as you may or may not know, is a very popular author who in 2005 committed suiced at the age of 67. He was made famous as a writer in the 60s and 70s and known as the father of “Gonzo journalism,” a style of writing that puts the journalist so close to the story, that they often become a central part of it. His most famous work, “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas,” was brought to the big screen in 1998 and also starred Depp as the Hunter S. Thompson character. Thompson in real life battled addiction and alcoholism, and both films seem to paint such horrible afflictions in a romantic and comedic light. In fact, I’d go so far to say that for today’s generation, Thompson is a beacon for the free-spirited drug culture, where acid-trips are hilarious and you’re not hip unless you have a glass in your hand, and a smoke in your mouth.
The basic premise of “The Rum Diary” follows the Thompson-esque journalist/novelist Kemp, played by Johnny Depp who is right in his quirky comfort zone reminiscent of his earlier films. It is 1960, and Kemp goes to Puerto Rico to work for a failing newspaper. Through his work, he stumbles across a wealthy businessman (Eckhart) and his lovely girlfriend (Heard), and is drawn into an illegal planning scheme. There are drugs, alcohol and cigarettes in nearly every shot, as he battles his demons, trying desperately to focus on his work and bringing the newspaper up to respectability.
If the film wasn’t given the “hip” stamp of having been written by Hunter S. Thompson, it would easily be dismissed as B-movie trash…something you may find playing on Showtime at 2 in the morning. But because it is Thompson, and due to the undeniable talent of Depp, we want the film to be much cooler than it really is.
Really, there is not much to the story, and it serves as a celebration of getting wasted…but that’s OK, because its 1960 and this whole drug culture wasn’t frowned upon back then. That being said, this film is a pot-smokers delight, the kind of film I could picture my fraternity watching and loving as they stumble and gather after a long night of partying.
The film features a very eccentric performance from Giovanni Ribisi, who continues to create memorable characters for himself each and every time. Eckhart and Jenkins are also great, and Amber Heard is so stunningly beautiful that it was hard to critique her performance. The problem is that the characters aren’t given much to do, except drink and smoke, and run around from plot contrivance to plot contrivance.
“The Rum Diary” matches the tone of “Fear & Loathing” but is less trippy in the hands of director Bruce Robinson, this only his 4th film in 25 years. It’s a solid performance from Depp and the others, but lacks real substance. Definitely a downer of a trip, for a movie full of spirits.