Journalism is a tricky business. Once must be able to dodge corruption, not give in to temptation, and remain objective to political turmoil. But these are just some of things going on in the comic drama, The Rum Diary.
Johnny Depp plays Paul Kemp, a failed novelist who has travels to San Juan, Puerto Rico to write for the local paper headed by a bloke called Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), who teams him up with the paper's deadbeat photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli) to do puff pieces on the city and its people. Set in 1960, riots, protests, unrest and corruption rule the seaside city but Paul will have none of it. A very heavy drinker, he drowns in the alcohol-soaked and chicken-fighting ventures of Sala and Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi), a delusional Nazi sympathiser and addict of just about everything. He is the paper's 'Crime and Religious Affairs' Correspondent. Paul becomes involved with a wealthy but less than moral property developer Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) and falls in love with his girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard), because after all there must be some element of romance.
Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) and Chenault (Amber Heard)
Johnny Depp has once again embodied the spirit of the late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Based on his novel, it is a dampened tale of temptation, politics and alcohol. Depp portrayed Thompson in the Terry Gilliam film Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas , which was also based on his writings, and if you've seen that film you will at least get some sort of idea as to how this down-and-dirty farce will play out. While it's not nearly as chaotic and hallucinogenic as that film, it is every bit as lost in its plot.
The screenplay is wickedly funny in places, beautifully highlighting the sarcastic and matter-of-factly persona of Kemp and even delving into political satire through the supporting characters that work for the paper. Richard Jenkins gives another great performance that is also quite funny in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, further proving the point that he is indeed a severely underrated actor. Rispoli and Ribisi are also effective as the so-called sidekicks of Kemp's adventures. But what begins as an interesting premise gradually goes more and more off the rails, to the point where it can't really tie up much. Even when it does, it's so circumstantial that most of the tension is lost, and we just don't care all that much, particularly the romance between Kemp and Chenault. At the end of the day, the film's plot is meant to mirror the tone: chaotic.
Paul with his two so-called sidekicks: Sala (Michael Rispoli) and Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi)
This was written and directed by Englishman Bruce Robinson who, in a 30-year career, has directed only four films including this one. This is his first film as director since Jennifer Eight , but his return to the screen here is a solid and ambitious one.
In all its substance-abused nihilistic behaviour, The Rum Diary is a worthy trip to the cinema, particularly if you're a Johnny Depp fan. It has a witty script, some fine performances and set design, but is ultimately a bit underwhelming. Where Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas is over the top, this is under the top so-to-speak.