In The Rum Diary Johnny Depp stumbles on screen as Paul Kemp, a fictionalized version of late journalist and novelist Hunter S. Thompson. The film follows the early stages of his career as a newspaper reporter in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Based on the film ingredients we should be in for a wild ride, but not quite. The Rum Diary offers nothing too significant beyond what’s already shown in previews. It’s a little mild.
Throughout the film it seems Depp’s character struggles to find his voice, or is on the verge of finding it towards the film’s end.
He sports sunglasses, speaks monotone, calculating his words, and only becomes invigorated when filled with drugs. The experience was quite dry without the rum, Kemp’s drink of choice.
Although he boozes heavily, Kemp fits right in with the staff. His coworker Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi) is practically a walking liquor store.
Kemp also finds a drinking buddy in veteran photographer, Sala (Michael Rispoli). When his boss, Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) asks how much he drinks, a glazed over Kemp replies, “the upper end of social.” He still lands the job.
Earlier: ‘50/50’ more drama than comedy.
As a wide-eyed newbie to publications, Kemp attracts the attention of an entrepreneur, Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart). Sanderson’s pinup prototype girlfriend, Chenault (Amber Heard), attracts Kemp’s attention.
Although he’s a crooked businessman, Sanderson shoots straight. He wants Kemp to write favorable coverage in the paper in order to secure a corrupt real estate deal.
Kemp is enamored by Chenault’s beauty, not to mention the red Corvette given to him. Sanderson is willing to do whatever it takes and Kemp, not naïve, is just in it for the girl. She’s an off-limits tease.
The young reporter is stuck at an intersection of rights and wrongs, and a trip to jail causes him to consider slowing down on the rum. However, when Sanderson posts his bail, Kemp becomes even more pressured to return a favor.
One would believe Depp has a fixation with Thompson’s life being that he also portrayed him in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and pushed to get this film into production.
Between sips, Thompson penned and published The Rum Diary in 1998. It seems the film would’ve benefited more if Paul Kemp was forced to come into his own during the film. Before the credits roll we’re told he fought back but it just seems contrived and lazy. We never really discover who he is or what causes his heavy drinking.
There are bits of laughs and action throughout, but the ending is reminiscent of a driving scene in which Kemp and Chenault are flooring full speed on a road that cuts off abruptly. Just when we start to pick up momentum, we’re halted. But who knows, much like lost drivers, maybe I missed something.
This film earns 2 out of 4 stars.
Local show times for The Rum Diary: