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The Rum Diary Movie Review - -

The Rum Diary 

    Reviewed by Andreas Wong on March 1st, 2012
presents a film directed by Bruce Robinson
    Screenplay by Bruce Robinson, based on the novel  'The Rum Diary' by
    Hunter S. Thompson

Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard,
    Richard Jenkins and Giovanni Ribisi

    Running Time: 120 mins
    Rating: M
    Released:  March 15th, 2012




In some hotel room out in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a stunned American, reeling from a hangover, drags his curtains aside and is blinded by a rush of sunlight. A lesion sits across his mouth. His right eye is freakishly bloodshot. It is set upon the droning seaplane that tore him away from his slumber. The room he is in appears as if it has been laid waste to. The furniture is erratically disordered. Even the minibar is tipped over, tilted at an acute angle against the floor. Meet Mr. Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp): an unassuming cool guy, would-be novelist and dipsomaniac extraordinaire. Needing a change of scene from Eisenhower-era America, Kemp is in town at the behest of Edward J. Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), editor-in-chief of “The San Juan Star”, a local newspaper, for a job interview. In spite of his inability to speak Spanish, he somehow gets himself a taxi ride down to the newspaper’s central office. It is not long before he is seated across from Lotterman himself. Paul is appropriately dressed for the occasion excepting for, of course, his ridiculous sunglasses. Lotterman throws his weight around, calling out Kemp’s “red eye” with knowing surety and alleging that Kemp’s résumé is full of bullshit. After letting Kemp stew for long enough, Lotterman informs him that he’d already landed the position before he even walked in. We learn later on though that it was simply because he was the only applicant.

Kemp finds himself on a steep learning curve as he learns about the paper’s operations and gets acquainted with its buzzing hive of drones. One of his colleagues, an eccentric Swede known only as “Moberg” (Giovanni Ribisi), is the crime and religion correspondent - a man who is rarely spotted out in the daytime, is always completely plastered and owns Nazi paraphernalia. Paul is made to cut his teeth on horoscopes and bowling news. He immediately strikes up a friendship with Bob Sala (Michael Rispoli), a street-smart veteran, who is waiting for the paper to go under so that he can gather his severance and retire over in Mexico. Not long into his stay, Kemp also gets himself headhunted by a wealthy, powerful and shady figure by the name of Hal Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who noticed his prose whilst reading a recent issue of the paper. Sanderson, representing a discreet group of American entrepreneurs, sets out to recruit Paul as part of a grand design to obtain the license for a luxurious hotel, with the secret intention of erecting it on a neglected island paradise that formerly served as a nuclear testing site. These elements form the bare bones of the narrative. From here onwards, the story fleshes out into a freewheeling adventure that features a sultry siren, hysterical situations and bitter truths.

Johnny Depp returns to cinema screens in a Bruce Robinson picture that adapts Hunter S. Thompson’s second novel. The novel was written in 1961 but published only in 1998. It preceded his celebrated Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by a whole decade, a book that itself incidentally got adapted into a movie that Depp also starred in. Unfortunately, Depp’s reprised role as a gonzo journalist falls flat as he turns in a vanilla performance that errs far too much on the side of caution. Kemp is conceived as an alcoholic writer tempered by a sober talent. His is an enigmatic soul with many strings to its bow. He is a chronicler with a conscience, a Coleridge admirer who believes that he has not yet discovered his own authorial voice and a winsome personality who exudes clownishness in every fibre of his being. In stark contrast to Raoul Duke, Paul is a protagonist whose characterisation demands subtlety and maturity, and Depp disappoints due to the degree of his restraint. In only his fourth feature in a near quarter of a century, Bruce Robinson, the English director of the cult classic Withnail and I (1987), shoots a hilarious and beautiful film that gets the audience astir but doesn’t go anywhere. It finds a visual correlative in a scene where Paul and Chenault (Amber Heard), Sanderson’s flirtatious floozy, shred a straight stretch of road at a rip-roaring 120 miles per hour in a red 1959 Chevrolet Corvette, until they come to a dramatic halt right at the edge of a perilous dead end.

The film truly works when its jokes are successfully executed and it has more than its fair share of those. They usually take shape in outrageous situations where Kemp and his ragtag crew run wild. In one particularly uproarious sequence, Kemp is forced to sit on Sala’s lap in order to steer the car, bobbing up and down with increasing frequency, just as a cop car belonging to one of the policemen whose face Kemp had scorched with spewed fire only the night before cruises alongside them. The comedy is always at its balls-out funniest when the inebriate Moberg is around. With his Squidward-like appearance, his extempore verses of drunken poetry and his utter abjection, Moberg is the film’s comic golden goose. The strengths end there. Whilst Robinson’s film draws out all that it can from the screenplay he ran with, there is a hollow feel to the story that one cannot escape. It feels as if there is no deeper meaning behind it all. The politics, the poverty and the paper all blur into a distant background that merely sets the scene for the wild ride that Paul is on. They never develop into anything more. At the newspaper’s eleventh hour, a rebellious plot to publish an devastating expose on all the crooked dealings going on behind the scenes ultimately falls through as reality firmly takes hold. The ending feels bathetic and futile. Depressingly so. However, the bottom line is that the punch of the humour, the beauty of the imagery and the spirit of the story ensure that this journey is still well worth taking even if it only takes you to the middle of nowhere.


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