Movie Review: The Rum Diary

By Stephen Rebello

Director Bruce Robinson's adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's early novel has its moments but fails to leave a mark.

Director: Bruce Robinson MPAA Rating: R Studio: Dark & Stormy Entertainment

Johnny Depp was the prime mover behind director Bruce Robinson’s stab at adapting for the big screen this early novel by his firebrand, take-no-prisoners friend Hunter S. Thompson. Depp scores points for loyalty and fidelity—it’s his second fictionalized Thompson portrait after Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas—but the resulting movie, though enjoyable and luscious to look at, only sporadically catches fire. Gonzo, it most certainly isn’t.

It’s great to see Depp playing something other than that increasingly tiresome pirate, though, and here is the avatar for Thompson’s young self, a boozy journalist arriving in that virginal, color-saturated, late 1950s paradise of Puerto Rico to work for a down-bound English-language newspaper, presided over by a cynical, acid-tongued, hilarious toupee-wearing editor (Richard Jenkins, the movie’s standout). Pretty much permanently buzzed, he rubs shoulders with fellow staff writers, the wised-up Michael Rispoli (a scene-stealer) and drugged-out Giovanni Ribisi. Something resembling a plot rears its head when he gets connected to a multimillion-dollar land scam being hatched by a skeezy real estate tycoon (Aaron Eckhart) and begins a seductive relationship with the boss’s beautiful girlfriend (Amber Heard).

It’s all so stoney, meandering and low key that very little of it leaves a mark, but, along the way, there are a few fun, slapstick-y chases, some pointed comments about racism and imperialism, crackling banter between the old time movie star-style glam couple Depp and Heard that evoke photocopy echoes of Bacall and Bogart and Grace Kelly and Cary Grant. It’s not a wild ride, but a fun one.


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