Looking for a freelance job with little actual experience, writer Paul Kemp travels to Puerto Rico to hopefully work for a troubled newspaper willing to consider his application. Though he gets a position as the tourism and horoscope columnist, he finds himself struggling to even keep track of himself as he continues to consume large amounts of alcohol. Paul moves in with Sala, a photographer who has an equally challenged relationship with alcohol, and Moberg, a drug addict who is able to avoid getting fired. Before leaving the hotel paid for by his boss, he met a young woman who happened to be the fiancee of Sanderson, a freelance realtor who has plans for Paul. He sets up an opportunity to help support him financially if Paul can aid in the process of taking over some land for the sake of a real estate scam. When Paul’s drinking causes him to get into trouble on multiple occasions, he has to find a way out of a hole that alcohol cannot fill.
Starring: Johnny Depp (Paul Kemp), Aaron Eckhardt (Sanderson), Michael Rispoli (Sala), Amber Heard (Chenault), Richard Jenkins (Lotterman), Giovanni Ribisi (Moberg)
While Depp’s characters tend to be a little off their rocker, this one follows the trend but due more to intoxication than having an eccentric personality. There is never a perfect sense of who he is as a person, as the alcohol masks any real character development. This tends to be the same for Michael Rispoli, but he at least has an intriguing quirk of narrating his thoughts out loud. Eckhardt has his trademark intensity and was a good fit for his role. Ribisi is an excellent supporting character in the way he fuels some of the bad decisions and provides a great comedic relief to an otherwise difficult to follow film.
The quirkiness of the acting and the storyline is somehow brought together by director Bruce Robinson. Based on the story of Hunter S. Thompson, the story follows this struggling writer with hopes of taking a detour before finding his voice again. The work at the newspaper was only meant to be a break from his creative slump, but when the offer came in regarding Sanderson’s real estate scheme, the experiences gave him more inspiration than he ever realized. During the experience, his alcoholism got him into a number of crazy situations, including cock fighting, carjacking and the destruction of his newspaper gig. By the time he was ready to leave Puerto Rico, he had a newfound inspiration to get back to his writing.
While the film is a dedication to the late Hunter S. Thompson, its presentation is as sloppy as its protagonist. The alcoholism is certainly a theme of the movie, but there is some difficulty in trying to follow the main storyline and get a sense of who Paul Kemp really is. Thompson’s story intended to be a play between political challenges in Puerto Rico, romance, jealousy and treachery. In possibly a similar way that Thompson’s story struggled to be picked up originally, this movie could have gone through some refinement before its release. There were still a few funny moments and redeeming characters that keep this from being a total flop.
The Rum Diary may have worked in concept but not in execution. The direction seemed as sloppy as the alcoholism displayed in the film and the story ended up feeling a little too thin to be truly enjoyable. In the end, this is a forgettable film.
Dan’s Rating: 2.0/5