Forced out of retirement by Johnny Depp’s pleading phone calls, Bruce Robinson returns to direct and write this nefarious adaptation of an early Hunter S. Thompson novel.
New Yorker journalist Paul Kemp travels to San Juan to work as a freelance newspaper writer, and struggles to adjust to the hostile locals and his rum-fuelled colleagues. Inevitably, escapades ensue.
Well, where do I start? If there’s anything that Bruce Robinson is famed for, it’s a peerless ability to write rich, ripe and endlessly funny character dialogue (if you haven’t already, go and see Withnail & I immediately. Yes, now. Then when you’re done watch this). So, do we get this as per usual in The Rum Diary? Do we fuck!
Not only is the script poor and gonzo-less, Johnny Depp is totally devoid of charisma as Kemp and considering he features in every scene, it’s a real strain watching the tee total movie star act repeatedly drunk/hungover without the spite and eccentricities of Raoul Duke; which still remains the best performance of his career.
But where does the fault lie? Although I feel sacrilegious in saying so, the film is only slightly worse than the novel from which it is taken. Being a fan of the original gonzo wordsmith, the book is a huge disappointment in itself. No grand allusions or witticisms, just alcohol fuelled quarrels, plus a particularly one dimensional incarnation of Thompson as Paul Kemp, it’s Fear and Loathing… light, and then worse. Well, at least the Puerto Rican setting looks lovely.
Although it’s nowhere near the worst film I’ve ever seen, nor worst of the week, The Rum Diary is an unnecessary waste of energy from everyone involved. It may be perfectly watchable, but it lacks the tenacity and spirit which embodies Thompson and Robinson’s work elsewhere. Pass me the bottle of grog, let’s drink to the good old days.