Johnny Depp takes a step back in The Rum Diary. He’s done this type of film before and he’s done it so much better in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Now that film was weird, interesting and just generally insane. The Rum Diary on the other hand, not so much. It steals bits that worked in Las Vegas, but on the whole it’s a failed attempt at a past comedy. It provides very little laughs and very little point. At the end of the film you’ll be scratching your head wondering what the whole point of the film was and what director Bruce Robinson set out to accomplish while filming it. Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart and the rest of the cast all provide watchable performances, but it’s the lack of direction that makes their effort wasted and the whole film a lost cause.
Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) is an American journalist who decides to try his freelance writing luck in Puerto Rico. He gets a crumby job from a bald man with a horrible wig named Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) and he learns the tricks of the trade from a co-worker named Sala (Michael Rispoli). Kemp’s internal problem is finding his writing voice. He doesn’t believe he has one and if he does he can’t locate it. He wastes time writing bullshit stories for Lotterman, but his real focus is on the various distractions, such as alcohol, drugs and beautiful ladies.
Kemp runs into a powerful man by the name of Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) and his bombshell girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard). Sanderson wants Kemp to help him with a secret operation that involves lots of cash for everyone. Kemp struggles with finding out exactly what he wants in life, so he naturally turns to the booze and drugs in a heartbeat. He tries some of the strongest drugs and alcohol with a crazed dirty man named Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi) and the rest is history.
The core story or point of The Rum Diary is kind of hard to find. Yes, Kemp dips in and out of odd situations, but that all stacks up to nothing really. If the point of The Rum Diary was for the viewer to care for Kemp and enjoy his dark fall into the world of Puerto Rico than The Rum Diary kind of works. Where it doesn’t work is making the viewer care for Kemp’s eventual rise and self-finding. By the time the credits role you’ll probably end up sitting there thinking, “That was it?” Yes, that was it. The Rum Diary is just a tease of a movie. It hints at several radical ideas that could have been followed out in a much better manner, but it never fully exposes anything.
It starts out giving you a clear idea of who Kemp is and then it just follows him around while he mixes and mingles with several people and most importantly, rum! He drinks and drinks and he smokes and smokes until he eventually tries some psychedelic drug that makes him see long tongues! Cool, huh? Not really, because those odd scenes never tie back to anything. It’s just brief glimpses of what’s going on inside the head of Kemp and then we move right along. The ending just sort of happens. The movie is slowly moving along and then it just ends, very predictably. You knew where the ending was going, but you figured there would be an established road to getting there, not just a quick series of misfortune and then bam, all over!
What really irritates me the most in The Rum Diary are the performances. They’re all excellent! Johnny Depp is very much channeling his character from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but who cares? That movie was hilarious and anything is better than another Pirates film. Aaron Eckhart and Amber Heard don’t provide much, but their screen presence alone is always welcomed. Let’s not forget about Richard Jenkins. He plays the average overworked editor in chief and he doesn’t really hit any high notes. He’s straight forward and to the point.
The two biggest breakouts here are Giovanni Ribisi, the crazed drunk who’s a washed up has been that does nothing but sit around and mumble and Michael Rispoli, who plays Kemp’s sidekick. Ribisi is just flat out hilarious in every single scene he’s in. His character is so random and dangerous; you never know what he’s going to do next. Rispoli on the other hand acts as the wing man just looking to have a good time. He gets into all of the trouble with Depp’s character and he also enjoys a good beverage.
Rispoli and Depp’s chemistry is top notch. They fit together like a glove, almost as well as Depp and Del Toro in Fear and Loathing. Both men are equally sad, lazy and tired, but both men bring a boatload of laughs and spice to an otherwise dry film. The best moments in The Rum Diary are whenever Rispoli and Depp are together on screen. The negative to this is that the hardest laughs were also the clips overused in all of the trailers and TV spots. There were a few funny moments that weren’t released in clips, but most of the good stuff was already presented.
That’s The Rum Diary‘s biggest problem. All of the good footage was revealed almost completely in the trailers. The film isn’t a laugh out loud comedy, but it does have a few moments of chuckling. The best gags were spoiled prematurely and the rest of the film just kind of slides by on the performances. If any other cast were involved this would be a complete snoozer, but Depp, Ribisi and Rispoli really try their best to drag this one out of the dog shit.
Hunter S. Thompson has been known for writing some really crazy stuff and Depp clearly knows how to play a Thompson character, so what went wrong here? Was it Bruce Robinson‘s lack of direction or was it the actual story that maybe played out better on paper than film? I’m not sure, but I am certain that The Rum Diary as a film doesn’t really work. It has some unique characters and some funny moments, but nothing that will make you come back for more. It’s just too shallow and lost. That being said, it’s still a good film on a technical level. The setting is easy on the eyes and the drugged out moments when they were high was fun to watch, but it never got past the point of just being amusing for brief moments.
The Rum Diary is a decent, middle of the road comedy that ends up being too tame. It’s hard to enjoy a movie that really has no point, even when you have guys like Depp, Ribisi, Jenkins and Eckhart to back it up.
The Rum Diary – 7/10