: Bruce Robinson
: Bruce Robinson
(screenplay), Hunter S. Thompson
: October 28, 2011 (USA)
: R for nudity, brief drug use, and graphic violence
: 120 minutes
: Johnny Depp
, Aaron Eckhart
, Michael Rispoli
, Amber Heard
, Richard Jenkins
, and Giovanni Ribisi
The Rum Diary is the 2011 movie based upon Hunter S. Thompson’s early novel that didn't end up being published until 1998. Thompson wrote Rum Diary while living in Puerto Rico and based it upon his experiences working for a local press, the San Juan Star. This film marks Bruce Robinson’s first return to directing since the ill-fated Jennifer 8 released in 1992.
Johnny Depp and Hunter S. Thompson team up for a second time in Rum Diary—only this time, Thompson’s already pulled the trigger.
In Rum Diary, Johnny Depp plays Paul Kemp (aka Hunter S. Thompson), a struggling writer with a taste for alcohol and menthols, who takes an internship at a failing newspaper in the slums of Puerto Rico. Alongside Depp, Michael Rispoli plays Depp’s sidekick and fellow intern at the press, Sala. And opposite of him, Aaron Eckhart plays the bad side of Harvey Dent as an evil business tycoon named Sanderson who’s bent on destroying some local scenery in lieu of a fancy hotel.
The film begins in a drunken stupor, with Kemp waking up from a hard night of drinking to begin his first day at the press. Kemp quickly finds that those working beside him are a mangy band of misfits much like himself. He also finds that the press he just started working for is quickly going up in smoke, and must decide whether to stay with the sinking ship or flee back to New York—a decision that slightly resembles the internal battle a theatre-goer must face when watching this film: the choice of whether to stay aboard this rapidly sinking ship or flee back to whatever degenerate, suburban slum they crawled out from.
Along the way, Kemp gets involved with a business mogul named Sanderson who’s illegally trying to develop one of the islands nearby. Kemp is caught up in the mix of Sanderson’s operation when he’s employed to write some pieces about his hotel operation that will hopefully swindle the Puerto Rican people into supporting it. There’s also a love story haphazardly thrown in involving Sanderson’s fiancé that incites a twisted yet uninteresting love triangle between the three.
In fact, the entire storyline is nothing but a muddled mess with a superabundance of separate plotlines that struggle for the center stage. The plot fights with itself continuously over which story is going to be the lead but never entirely resolves it. Characters are introduced, and then thrown out halfway through; sub-plots are started but never finished; the impromptu love story is embarrassingly clichéd and somewhere along the line we’re introduced to some Thompson-esque anti-establishment psychobabble. Rum Diary goes every which way without ever staying in one direction for any satiating amount of time. It jumps from serious drama to light-hearted drug memoir to romantic comedy to perplexing social commentary on the evils of industrialization.
As a fan of the book, I wanted to like this movie—I really did—but I just can’t say, with any shred of a doubt, that it’s a movie worthy of Thompson’s or Depp’s name. It had such potential to become another Fear and Loathing but ultimately came out as a major letdown. The main problem with Rum Diary is that it’s missing everything that made the book so great. And for a film nearly ten years in the making, it feels shockingly unpolished.
In fact, the only thing I truly enjoyed about this movie was the setting. Puerto Rico is a beautiful filming location of urban decay set to the backdrop of exotic jungelry. But the beauteous scenery cannot save this movie, nor does Depp’s convincing performance as a young Thompson. Depp, who plays Thompson second only to Thompson himself, seems to be the only redeeming performance in this movie.
Being in the middle of the Caribbean, things apparently got hot on the set of Rum Diary. With temperatures rising to above 100 degrees, everybody was on edge, and the ice in the beer cooler was probably melting faster than they could drink. Maybe that’s why this movie is so bad—or maybe its Bruce Robinson’s terrible direction, I’m still undecided.
In the ending dialogue, Kemp asks “Do you smell that? That’s the smell of bastards.”—but the only thing I was smelling as it came to an end was the incredible rotting stink of this film.
Hunter S. Thompson fans will probably come away disappointed with Rum Diary. In fact, it’s a movie that probably shouldn’t have even been made in the first place—Hunter S. Thompson movies should have ended when Hunter S. Thompson ended Hunter S. Thompson.
So my final verdict: stay away from this movie, it will only lead to much disappointment and frustration as you witness a great novel be torn to shreds by a poor Hollywood adaptation. At the heart of every Hunter S. Thompson novel is a highball glass full of rum, but the movie version of Rum Diary seems to be a stale blend.