The Rum Diary, 2011.
Written and Directed by Bruce Robinson.
Starring Johnny Depp, Giovanni Ribisi, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard and Richard Jenkins.
An American journalist takes on a job for a local newspaper in Puerto Rico, where he becomes increasingly unhinged.
In the 13 the years that have passed since Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas, Johnny Depp’s career has hit new heights, but the quality of film has not always matched the box office numbers which have cemented him in the A-List. The Pirates of the Caribbean series, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice In Wonderland were all mammoth hits, but despite the majority of opinions, I have never liked Depp in these films. I like the Depp of Public Enemies, Blow and The Libertine. So where does The Rum Diary place?
Thankfully, it’s in the latter category of performances. He’s not in disguise, covered in makeup and wigs but Depp gives yet another solid character performance in The Rum Diary as Kemp, from the pages of novelist Hunter S. Thompson’s book of the same name. However, for anyone thinking this will turn out to be Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas Part II, think again; the levels of madness, drug-fuelled paranoia and destruction are played out and much smaller level, and in their place we get the occasional laugh, the occasional rum drinking, and a romance that, is often the case, we don’t really buy into or care for.
This is a shame because the film starts off so promisingly. The first time we meet Kemp he is in a Puerto Rico hotel with crimson eyes, a pounding head, and a trashed hotel room. He drinks 161 miniature bottles from the hotel minibar in one week. He wears shades indoors to hide his eyes from those around him. He meets Sala (Michael Rispoli) and Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi) whose levels of alcohol and drug consumption pave the way for what we see in Terry Gilliam’s 1998 picture where the real madness takes place.
Without the sheer craziness of what we’ve seen before, The Rum Diary seems very flat and its plot turns out to be very obvious; Kemp meets a girl, they fall in love, she leaves her rich but no-good boyfriend, and they live happily ever after. In between all this we do get snippets of fun such as the brilliant scene where Kemp steers and Sala works the pedals of their little car with a rather bouncy suspension, or when Kemp uses 460 proof alcohol, a lighter, and his mouth as a weapon to fend off some angry locals. Thompson fans will most probably disagree with me and that’s understandable; but for all the fun parts and Depp’s great acting and the scenery of Puerto Rico, the film gets too serious in the final act and there’s juxtaposition within the narrative which just doesn’t strike the right balance.
If this film had been made first, I don’t think we would have seen Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas get made.
VERDICT: 6 OUT OF 10
Rohan Morbey - follow me on Twitter.