“The Rum Diary” fails to do Hunter S. Thompson justice
“The Rum Diary” is based on the first novel of Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Johnny Depp has been an avid fan and supporter of Thompson and his work since portraying the writer in 1998′s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Depp’s enthusiasm for Thompson and his work has been noble (Depp helped to bankroll the movie after discovering it in a heap of the artist’s unpublished work, as well as paying for Thompson’s funeral in 2005.) This enthusiasm does not translate into a good movie though.
Thompson’s work has been characterized as fast-paced, comedic, and obtuse. Though the book and movie give rare insight into Thompson and the persona we’ve come to know him for, the movie falls flat in nearly every facet. Generic characters, plot, and cinematography are crammed down the viewer’s throat. It’s like buying a drink you know you hate, and expecting the passing of time to have reshaped your pallet. When you drink it, though, you remember why you hated it.
The plot barely gives off a pulse. Depp plays Paul Kemp the film’s catalyst. Kemp is a reporter taking up a job at a newspaper in 1960s Puerto Rico. The newspaper is filled with characters none of which are memorable.
The same goes for the rest of the film’s characters. Amber Heard (“Pineapple Express”) is visually stunning in her portrayal of Chenault, the object of Kep’s affection, but that’s about it. Her character is bland, taking up screen time in very small spurts and supplying no substance other than her sexual swagger. Aaron Eckhart plays Sanderson, another villainous rich guy who uses Chenault to entice Kemp into some shady business dealings. Oh no! Another rich guy with a taste for malevolent real estate ventures! Haven’t seen that before! The stiff plot line hamstrings his character. Yes, he’s bad, but the movie does not provide a reason to care.
Kemp gets into high jinks with fellow newspaper staff writers Bob Sala (Michael Rispoli) and Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi) cavorting around the island quarreling amongst each other and locals. These comedic endeavors fail to provide even smirk. The fights and the laughs are nothing new. You’ve heard it all before.
The film makes attempts to provide dialogue of a Hithcockian order: quick, smart, and potent, yet the results fall flat. No zingers here. The film’s most poignant moment comes near the end with Kemp (as an extension of Thompson) begins to realize his journalistic stride: consuming drugs and taking on fat cats and oppressors of the upper class.
I bought a ticket to “The Rum Diary” with a plethora of enthusiasm for Thompson and his work. I have yet to read the novel and seeing this movie may have deterred any intention to do so.
Though fellow movie goers have appeased me by stating that the movie is not very faithful to the novel, taking liberties with a novel’s story line and characters hardly ever goes well, and this instance seems no different. Twenty minutes into this movie, I was patting my pocket missing the 10 dollars I had spent for admission.
The rest of the movie, I was waiting for a redeemable moment. Something worth 10 dollars or that would validate sitting in a movie theater for two hours, and I found none. I found myself trying to stay awake and almost nodding off a couple times. I was not the only one.