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'The Rum Diary' Review

 

“The Rum Diary” can be somewhat difficult to wrap your head around.  

I was never 100 percent sure if it had some larger purpose that was within grasp that I was failing to reach, or if it really was meant to be the broad and silly comedy the trailers made it out to be.  

I’m inclined to think both, but the movie only toed the water either way, never fully jumping in.  

Hunter S. Thompson, hero to alcoholics everywhere, wrote the novel “The Rum Diary” in 1961, but no one saw it until 1998 when Johnny Depp discovered the manuscript in Thompson’s office and suggested it be published.  

After 13 years of development hell, we now have the movie version.  

I haven’t read the book, but if it’s anything like the movie, I would imagine it starts off slow, builds to something bordering on brilliant and then just abruptly stops without resolving anything.  

Johnny Depp stars as roving 1960s journalist Paul Kemp who grows tired of living (drinking) in New York and decides to start living (drinking) in Puerto Rico, where he finds work at the struggling San Juan Star.  

The Star is a propaganda machine, and Kemp is encouraged to only write nice, happy things about the violent happenings in Puerto Rico, so as to not hurt the thriving tourist industry. He falls in with a corrupt and wealthy American businessman Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), discovers his journalistic integrity and drinks a whole lot.  

Only that last part really amounts to anything.  

“The Rum Diary” isn’t a cohesive narrative so much as a series of wacky drunken shenanigans.  

Luckily, those shenanigans are highly entertaining, the dialogue is clever and the jokes hit home more often than not.  

As a comedy, “The Rum Diary” works very well.  

Sometimes it’s just fun to watch grown men get intoxicated and participate in a laundry list of exceedingly harebrained schemes to make money or get girls.  

“The Rum Diary” pulls this off in spades.  

The movie also hints at something deeper with Kemp’s disgust at the corruption in Puerto Rico and his desire to win the love of Sanderson’s fiancé, played by the lovely Amber Heard.  Kemp even steps through his drunken haze to make a go at exposing Sanderson’s illegal real estate plot.  

The problem is that nothing actually comes of any of this.  

The anticlimactic ending is such a giant letdown that it nearly ruined the entire movie for me.  

The second half of the movie was really getting down to something great, and then it was just over, with an unwelcome text explaining to us what became of the main characters.  

That would be like “Jaws” ending right as they set out to kill the shark, with a text coming up that says, “And then they killed the shark.”

I flat out loved this movie up until the conclusion and was very dejected as I left the theater.  

It’s sort of strange to see Depp play a drunken buffoon without his pirate costume on, and his speech cadence is somewhat similar to Jack Sparrow, though I’ve read that his speech patterns in this movie were meant to sound like Thompson himself.  

Depp is great here, though, and I feel he is often underrated as a comedic performer.

The rest of the cast is good to great.  

Eckhart is a serviceable villain (and even in movies where he plays the good guy he’s just too handsome to trust) and Heard is sultry as the object of Kemp’s desire, as she has the rare quality of looking like a supermodel while appearing down to earth.  

The heart of the supporting cast would be Michael Rispoli and Giovanni Ribisi as Kemp’s colleagues and cohorts.  

Ribisi is hilariously insane as the journalist with even worse alcohol problems than Kemp, and Rispoli, whose voice sounds almost exactly like Bender’s from “Futurama,” really anchors the film.  

The visuals of lush 1960s Puerto Rico could be considered another star of the movie. The production design makes you feel like you’re there.

So, “The Rum Diary” could be been one of the year’s best, but instead it will just come and go and fade from memory in a few months.  

It’s certainly not a bad film.  

In places it’s a very good one, and though it hasn’t done very well at the box office so far, I’d say it will find its audience somewhere down the road.