The Rum Diary is fragmented goodness. And it just so happens that this is not a good thing.
When the official movie poster and the sunglasses Johnny Depp sports in this flick are more charismatic and engaging than the 120 minutes, there’s definitely more than a drinking problem going on here. The film that teases an issue with alcohol is as lazy as a pot smoker; which sadly includes the uber-talented lead.
Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) stumbles into a struggling newspaper in 1950’s Puerto Rico. His editor is the once wise, but recently shady, Edward Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), and he sticks the more-or-less alcoholic Kemp on writing horoscopes. Kemp becomes fast friends with people in and out the confines of the paper. Bob Salas (Michael Rispoli) shows him the ropes of the outlet as well as the current way of life on the poor island. Salas also provides Kemp with a rundown apartment that he has to share with the only true drunk, that is somehow still employed with the Star, in the equally run-downed, Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi).
Outside of the newspaper, a savvy businessman by the name of, Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) takes an interest in Kemp as he wants to bring him in on his dealings to open a magnificent resort on a secret location just off the island. People at the paper begin to give Kemp the cold shoulder as he spends time with Sanderson and his questionable local business contacts via his assortment of yachts and private beach estates. Kemp is also wary of Sanderson, but stays involved for he has become love-struck with Sanderson’s striking fiancée, Chenault (Amber Heard).
In the end, Kemp is faced with choices that all boil down to his loyalty and integrity to the journalistic profession.
The last sentence may be the goal of this adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s turbulent novel, yet the scattered delivery to bring it all together just wasn’t happening. Reason being is that writer/director Bruce Robinson (writer of 1999’s In Dreams) telling of this tale is as understandable as a local drunk trying to make small talk. Every now and then he says something that resonates (candid convo between Depp and Jenkins in the office after-hours) but for the most part, you just want to turn away on your stool and focus on something else.
Even when the intended comedic moments randomly enter – mainly through Giovanni Ribisi’s seldom used homeless looking, rebellious junkie shtick – they tease the direction people want this story to go, yet they are desperate attempts to keep on vested in this boring and careless story. Journalists may find some pleasure in this, for it does pontificate on the business; but even the die-hard Johnny Depp fans will be wondering why this character reminds them of similar ones from his accomplished past. He’s not just going through the motions by any means. There’s just no life in his character or the smooth as sandpaper screenplay. In other words, the dynamics of the character and the script fail to work here.
As for the rest of the performers, they’re all intriguing and interesting to get to know at certain points. It becomes a chore however to understand their purpose, especially when the tone of the plot contradicts particular scenes that look to be grandfathered in from another script. Again, things just aren’t matching up, leading to a story one just wants to put down.
Overall, The Rum Diary wets one’s whistle early on but gets all dried up rather quickly. The entire screenplay is put together in a haphazard manner and while there are some interesting points being made here-n-there, this drink goes down hard; hence why the sharp performances come across watered-down.
The Rum Diary is rated R and opens in the Tampa market on October 28th.