I'm a freelance writer living and loving Melbourne
Published February 9th 2012
Based on a novel by Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary has all the trademarks you'd expect in this film adaptation from writer/director Bruce Robinson – plenty of rum and booziness between the lead and his happy-go-lucky sidekick, hallucinogenic drugs (although, you see nowhere near as much as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and last but certainly not least, actor Johnny Depp.
Depp is Paul Kemp, a writer, who has moved to Puerto Rico to work for the struggling local newspaper run by Lotterman (Richard Jenkins). His happy-go-lucky sidekick is the newspaper's photographer Sala (Michael Respoli) who helps Kemp get settled in with the essentials of local life – bars, rum and cock fighting. It's in one of the local bars drinking rum that Kemp first meets sometime journalist and all-round anarchist Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi). The performances of Respoli and Ribisi are the major highlights. Both actors deliver the most authentic performances in the film and in turn give us not only the funniest but also the more moving scenes with Depp who does his best with a lead character pulled in way too many directions.
For example, Kemp also befriends American entrepreneur Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) who is working with investors to develop a massive hotel complex that is sure to attract local opposition. Sanderson is also engaged to the stunning Chenault (Amber Heard) who Kemp truly, madly, desperately falls in love with.
This film has obviously been a labour of love for Depp who stuck by its production after several setbacks. While there were some great scenes, particularly among Depp, Respoli and Ribisi, it simply doesn't deliver.
The story tends to go all over the place and not in a good way. You have the love story bubbling away as the political unrest of Puerto Rico simmers in the background. Meanwhile foreign investors are hell bent on raping and pillaging the land, and the newspaper is set to go out of business. But wait there's more. Did I mention several drunken misadventures, one drugged up night out and betting it all on a prestigious local cock fight?
As a result I lost interest in Kemp. I stopped cheering for him and instead starting looking at my watch hoping the film would end. All-and-all, The Rum Diary fails to bring the requisite wit and dramatic edge to properly do Hunter S. Thompson justice.