Movie Review: The Rum Dairy

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Rum Diary is a disappointment to be sure. I was surprised that the material is so tame (the film is borderline PG-13). Director Robinson has crafted a fantastic re-creation of Puerto Rico circa 1960 — it's gorgeously detailed but unfortunately just a background. He could have used it to his advantage and had it play a real character in the film.

Another problem is its tacked-on sense of self-importance. When Depp isn't engaging in bad behavior he suddenly becomes a righteous journalist who wants to infiltrate and take down corrupt land barons and politicians. These scenes feel forced and put a damper on the fun. That's why the final hour "let's fight the bastards!" plot turn feels unsatisfying. We're told land barons are driving natives from their homes, but we barely see natives throughout the movie. It's tough to get angry about an injustice when the main character has been having wacky adventures for the first 90 minutes of the movie.

And while Depp's persona is still a good fit for Thompson, his casting here feels at least 10 years too late (the guy is pushing 50 now). Thompson wrote The Rum Diary in his mid-20s. Depp is probably the sole reason the film got funded, so I presume it was not in the best interest for the casting director to bring the age-issue up.

I know it seems like I have nothing but complaints about The Rum Diary, and I don't deny a palpable disappointment in it. That said, it's a decent film to kill some time with on a lazy weekend afternoon. The comic set pieces work very well and the performances are all solid. While it may not achieve Hangover-type grosses at the box office, Rum Diary will most certainly play on basic cable for the rest of eternity. It can be hugely enjoyable, and there is rarely ever a dull moment. Watching it with an large audience responding to positively to every joke also helps. Maybe a few shots of rum beforehand would have helped more.

[Editor's Note: Ok, I blew this one. Anthony had this review in late last Friday and I never got around to posting it. With my apologies to the author, I present the CL review of The Rum Diary …]

Bruce Robinson's (Withnail & I) long awaited adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary opens promisingly. We follow Thompson stand-in Kemp (Johnny Depp), a journalist and failed novelist, as he deals with a crushing hangover while stumbling through his first day of work at a declining Puerto Rico paper. From this opening, I expected an intoxicated and bizarre first-person account of a great writer's coming of age, the unexpected sights and sounds of an exotic land in turmoil, and a battle against a corrupt businessmen — all while still having an immoral and debauched good time.

Unfortunately, Rum Diary the film falls back on every coming-of-age comedy cliche in the book. Kemp makes other quirky alcoholic friends (played by Michael Rispoli and Giovanni Ribisi) and is entranced by a bombshell party girl (the gorgeous Amber Heard) on his journey. Then there's the drug-trip gone awry and silly car chases. If you were to classify the film, it would likely fall into the Harold and Kumar genre rather than acclaimed literary adaptation.

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