The Rum Diary

**

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I’m afraid more rum was needed.

The H-Bomb:  I must confess off the bat that I’ve never read anything by Hunter S. Thompson, and my only real exposure to him was from Terry Gilliam’s bat shit crazy adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which I do kind of like, but ultimately just got too obnoxiously bonkers for me to really, fully embrace.  That’s why the trailers for “The Rum Diary” looked promising.  It looked as though we were going to get another glimpse into Thompson’s very unique mind, only this time in a toned down, more palatable way.

Sadly, screenwriter/director Bruce Robinson toned things down to the point where any interest or fun to be had was just evaporated.  It was like “Fear and Loathing”, except instead of tripping on Acid, it was bombed into a complete stupor of Quaaludes and Valium, so much so that all it can do is slog along from one dramatically indifferent scene to another at a leaden pace.  That is The Rum Diary, Fear and Loathing gone dull.  There is a plot, things do happen, but there is absolutely zero dramatic tension.  There’s no sense of urgency or importance, nothing to hook us in or make us invested in what’s happening.  It’s like watching the movie drunk: we see what’s happening, but we’re only watching passively, and we’re completely detached from it all.

It’s starts out promisingly enough, with Johnny Depp once again stepping into the role of Thompson’s surrogate, this time named Paul Kemp.  The story is set in Puerto Rico in 1960, with boozy writer Kemp arriving fresh from the States to work as a reporter for some local rag that is slowly going the way of the Dodo.  Kemp is serious about being a journalist and wants to tackle important stories, but his cynical, toupee-topped editor (Richard Jenkins) just wants him to write fluff about fat American tourists at bowling alleys.   Kemp isn’t particularly happy about this, but just keep the rum flowing, and he’ll be fine (hey, sounds like me).

Eventually, he crosses paths with wealthy douche bag Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who, we eventually find out, wants Kemp to write promotional pieces for an island resort that he’s trying to interest investors in.  Kemp becomes involved with Sanderson’s beautiful girlfriend, Chennault (Amber Heard), and soon discovers what a shady guy Sanderson really is.  It’s then that Kemp sets about finding a way to bring him down, with the power of the printed word.  All the while, the unfocused narrative sends Kemp on a series of misadventures with fellow alcoholic writers Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi) and Sala (Michael Rispoli).  These include scary altercations with gringo hating locals and accidentally setting a cop on fire.  Sometimes the antics rise to the level of mildly amusing, but never beyond that, and not often enough.

And again, that‘s the dang problem. The Rum Diary is the most bewilderingly boring film I have ever seen.  Overall it’s about Thompson discovering his voice as a writer, and that certainly had the potential to be a fascinating story, but the execution is just so Goddamn blasé that it‘s actually frustrating to think about what a squandered opportunity this movie is.  The actors do try, with Depp back in the Thompson role.  Only this time, instead of playing zany, drugged out Thompson, he’s playing restrained, drunk Thompson.  His performance is very understated, and sadly, that only adds to the film’s lack of dramatic oomph.

Eckhart is perfectly cast as the sleazy, rich slime ball, but the movie didn’t make me care enough to hate him.  Ribisi and Jenkins actually are funny as the more lively and eccentric characters in the piece, but they couldn’t salvage it.  Heard is not bad to look at, but writing wise, her role is terminally malnourished.  Here, she is eye candy, and nothing more.

This is a project that Depp, who also produced, had been nurturing for a long, long time, at least a decade, and I really wish the end result would have been more worth his while.  I wish it had been more worth my while, as well.  Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was certainly not a perfect film, but it was also certainly never boring for a second, either.  The Rum Diary just runs on the same flat tempo all the way through to its utterly “so what” ending.  It’s not funny enough to keep me entertained, as comedy-wise, all the best bits are in the trailer.  The limp attempts at drama are not engaging enough to make me care, and all I was left with at the end were two hours that I wished I had back.


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