The Rum Diary (review)

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Johnny Depp The Rum Diary

I don’t know the Hunter S. Thompson novel [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] this disappointingly unengaging flick was spun out of, but it’s hard to imagine that Thompson created his semiautobiographical journalist Paul Kemp as such an ineffectual figure… and it’s equally impossible to believe that Johnny Depp — who acted as producer and stars as Kemp, and who is, we’re told, such a very big fan of Thompson’s — intended for Kemp to flail ineptly through a story in which he can have little impact on events around himself beyond stealing the putative villain’s girlfriend (Amber Heard: Drive Angry). The year is 1960, and Kemp arrives in Puerto Rico to work for a local newspaper the editor of which (a hilarious Richard Jenkins: Let Me In) readily admits is dying — hell, newspaper journalism itself is all but dead, everyone here but Kemp is ready to concede, sacrificed on the altar of advertising and the maintenance of the status quo. Kemp’s determination to prove them all wrong by taking down a grasping property developer (Aaron Eckhart: Battle: Los Angeles) feels sadly quaint from our perspective today, half a century into the journo-zombie infopocalypse, as undead newspapers refuse to acknowledge their own demises. The problem is that I suspect that Depp (Rango) and writer-director Bruce Robinson (who back in the 80s made the now cult classic Withnail & I) don’t intend for Kemp’s rebelliousness to feel curiously old-fashioned. But an amusing performance from Depp — as well as from Kemp’s newspaper sidekicks (Michael Rispoli [Kick-Ass] and Giovanni Ribisi [Avatar]) — fail to impart any sense of positive, productive defiance. No matter how emphatically Kemp insists that he “put the bastards of the world on notice” and that he does “not have their best interests at heart,” he comes across as wholly inadequate to the task. In a weirdly anticlimatic way, The Rum Diary is putting a spiritual kibosh on the 60s before they’ve even gotten started. It makes for a lousy tribute to Thompson’s fundamental insolence.

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