Johnny Depp has a special connection with Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. First he played him in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and now he’s brought Thompson’s “long-lost” novel The Rum Diary to the screen, playing the fictional Paul Kemp, a failed novelist looking for some inspiration in Puerto Rico. Kemp is basically the proto-Gonzo Thompson.

The film takes place in 1960, against the backdrop of the Nixon/Kennedy election. Kemp reports to work for a struggling newspaper in San Juan sporting sunglasses that can’t possibly mask his monster hangover, which is just fine since the job he is there for he could do with his eyes closed – little rewrite here, a couple of horoscopes there and nothing that rocks the boat, which leaves all the time he needs for copious drinking, getting in trouble with his new best buddy, the newspaper’s photographer (Michael Rispoli), and a good bit of lusting after a rich man’s gorgeous fiancée (Amber Heard.)

That rich man is Hal Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a sleazy huckster intent on developing (raping) paradise, and he wants Kemp to write up brochures for him and his wealthy buddies. It is all very hush-hush, money under the table, corrupt governments, Yanqui colonialists screwing over the locals. But it leaves a decidedly bad taste in Kemp’s mouth and things do not go as planned. I think you are supposed to infer that this experience made Thompson the kind of crazed crusading journalist he became.

You’ll probably appreciate The Rum Diary more if you are a Thompson fan. For me, it doesn’t really work because there is no real drama. There are some very funny lines, little bit of romance and a lot of drunken rambling, but it just doesn’t add up to much. If Johnny Depp were not the lead, I don’t think it would have been made. (Depp is one of the producers.) Not that there is anything wrong with paying to watch Johnny Depp do anything for a couple of hours. I like that he chooses roles that are a bit outside the bookends, but this isn’t one that goes anywhere interesting. If you’re looking for something to sink your teeth into or that will take you away from it all, you should probably look a little further.

Click here to watch the official trailer

One thought on “The Rum Diary”
  1. Phew, I was afraid it was just me! I, too, was disappointed in The Rum Diary, though I generally like watching Johnny Depp (and Aaron Eckhart). There really is no better way to describe this movie than FLAT with a capital ‘F’. Sure, it may provide some colorful insight into the ‘real life’ character of Hunter S. Thompson, but for the most part, you watch – and wait- for a dramatic arc that never materializes.

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