Based on the trailer, you’d probably expect ‘The Rum Diary’ to be little more than ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas‘ with some new scenery and the drugs swapped out for alcohol. While there are definitely similarities between the two, ‘The Rum Diary’ is (somewhat) more driven by plot than random actions, which makes it a much more digestible film than ‘Fear and Loathing’. Having said that, it’s almost certainly not going to be mainstream enough for the masses. I have a feeling that many unsuspecting Johnny Depp fans will walk out scratching their heads.
In this adaptation of another Hunter S. Thompson novel, Depp plays 1960s writer Paul Kemp. Although Kemp aspires to write fiction, he’ll take whatever writing position he can get. ‘The Rum Diary’ begins when a very hung-over Paul gets hired by the sham newspaper The San Juan Star in Puerto Rico. Designed to suck money from the pockets of wealthy vacationers, the Star only publishes shallow puff pieces. This angers the locals and turns the sell-out staff into drunks who don’t give a damn. Already an alcoholic, Paul fits in just fine – but his lingering integrity may change everything.
‘The Rum Diary’ initially feels like it has no direction, but I guarantee you that its slow-moving story is headed in a certain direction. If you can handle all of the quirky scenarios Paul and his buddies find themselves in, once the stories all tie together, you’ll agree that it’s a drunken trip well worth taking.
As always, Depp gives a fantastic performance (as does Aaron Eckhart), but it’s the supporting cast that truly shines here. Michael Rispoli plays Sala, a veteran at the Star who takes Paul under his wing. Their weakness for alcohol gets them into a lot of shenanigans. Richard Jenkins gives another terrific character performance as the uptight and always-angry editor-in-chief of the paper. Giovanni Ribisi plays a bootlegging conspiracy theorist sleazeball who blasts old Hitler recordings whenever he can. And the gorgeous Amber Heard plays the ritzy out-of-his-league temptress that Paul can’t get out of his mind.
‘The Rum Diary’ isn’t the kind of movie that will get huge box office or awards buzz, but it’s an entertaining little study of some interesting characters placed into an odd environment. More artsy than mainstream, it probably won’t be a film for the average audience that knows Depp primarily as Captain Jack Sparrow.