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“The Rum Diary” – Early Review (SO-SO)

October 25, 2011

Hunter S. Thompson’s work is unparalleled. His material is compelling as it is insane. His writing style is fast-paced & out there. He had a knack for cutting through the bullshit & the bastards of the world. “The Rum Diary” is one of his better novels, his first to write, but his last to ever be officially released.

Johnny Depp returns as the gonzo journalist embodiment of Thompson, in this adaptation, surprisingly written & directed by Bruce Robinson, the director of “Withnail & I” (see it, it’s a BIG must). It’s surprising to see Bruce in the director’s chair again; after all, he’s been absent from it since ’92. “Withnail & I” was a fantastic film, and so far he hasn’t really made anything match up to it. I was hoping for this film to do that. It marginally does, at the very best.

Paul Kemp is a freelance journalist (remind us of anyone) who finds himself at a critical turning point in his life while writing for a run-down newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Kemp is challenged on many levels as he tries to carve out a more secure niche for himself amidst a group of lost souls all bent on self-destruction. Until he meets Hal Sanderson, a PR guy for the island, which he so willingly takes Kemp under his wing. Sanderson wants Kemp to use his skillful writing style to attract potential buyers for a new hotel, all in all this falls into the pit of criminal scams run by Sanderson. Greed seems to be a disease infesting the island, and tearing the locals apart, and throwing them into the sea like garbage.

That plotline is just a small portion of the book. There is so much more in the novel and a lot of it is fantastic stuff. The movie does accomplish key elements from the film, but the emotional connection that the book had is not at all present in this movie. It’s hard to feel any emotional connection to the protagonist, when he’s underdeveloped. Which is an onward issue with this movie, many of the characters are underdeveloped. The plot is there, it’s a good plot, and it pertains to today’s world, so there’s that, but it fails with getting there with the characters.

The performances in the movie are in top gear, that much is a given. Johnny Depp tones it down this time around, after his insanely over the top performance in “Fear Loathing”, yet he still maintains that signature charm that Thompson clearly had. Giovanni Ribisi gives the best supporting performance in the movie as the mad-drunk reporter Modberg. Modberg is as crazy if not more so in the book as he is portrayed in the movie. Everyone else does their job well; Michael Rispoli, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard, and Richard Jenkins do what they can with the script that is given to them.

In the end I can’t give this movie a terrible rating, but I can’t praise it. To me it was half assed, and even if you haven’t read the book, the ending to the movie is a clear dead giveaway how half assed it really was. It’s funny; I believe it’s a clear understanding that adapting Hunter S. Thompson’s work may be trickier than most filmmakers give credit for. Just look at his past adapted films, “Fear Loathing” & even the underrated “Where the Buffalo Roam”.

GRADE: C+

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