Saturday, October 29, 2011


Rated: R

Stars: Johnny Depp, Richard Jenkins, Amber Heard, Michael Rispoli, Aaron Eckhart, Giovanni Ribisi

Director: Bruce Robinson

Genre: Action-Adventure/ Comedy

Johnny Depp channels his good (but dead) friend, Hunter S. Thompson, in The Rum Diary--the screen adaptation of Thompson's first novel about his adventures and misadventures in Puerto Rico circa 1960-- that remained unpublished until after the "gonzo" journalist had gained his notoriety. Isn't it funny how a piece of writing can be rejected by publishers as unworthy, but once the writer becomes famous for his later endeavors, it's suddenly not only good enough to publish, but to make a movie out of as well!!!

Depp is Paul Kemp, a fledgling novelist with a drinking problem who lands a job at the fictional San Juan Star, the island's English language daily that is on the verge of going belly up. (I landed a gig in P.R. myself in 1968, and the real San Juan Star was alive and well--in fact, being in the media, I worked with some of the reporters from that paper, which only recently ceased publication due to economic issues in 2008.)

Kemp, initially assigned to writing horoscopes by his embattled editor, Lotterman, (Richard Jenkins) obviously has a low threshold for tedium, so he teams up with photographer Sala, (Michael Rispoli) and together they get into drunken altercations with some of the locals, (helping to reinforce the image of the Ugly American...thank you very much) land in jail, and get bailed out by Sanderson, (Aaron Eckhart) an unscrupulous land developer who sees his opportunity to manipulate the young reporter into writing glowing reports about his scheme to build luxury hotels on a pristine neighboring island, and thus open up paradise to more hordes of tourists, all in the name of the mighty dollar. (The island, though never identified in the film, is Vieques-- which the U.S. navy was using as a bombing range, against the wishes of the inhabitants of the island, for many years.)

Gotta have some romance, of course, and Kemp finds himself falling for Sanderson's luscious girl-gone-wild girlfriend, Chenault, (Amber Heard) which is going to complicate things between himself and Sanderson, and lead to Kemp's epiphany, where he begins the transformation from hack horoscope writer and shill for the corporate world to crusading journalist. Here he gets to wax philosophical about truth and taking the bastards down--an attempt to steer this capricious, careening movie back onto the road and deliver something of substance--trite though the message may be.

What I liked:

  • A few of the individual scenes in The Rum Diary are pretty hot--like when Kemp and Sanderson's borrowed car and borrowed girlfriend, Chenault, are speeding along, playing a game of chicken to see who will scream first with the pedal flat out to the metal. Another one finds Kemp, Sanderson, and Chenault on the neighboring island of Saint Thomas, with the hedonistic young lovely dancing and losing her inhibitions with a group of local men, amidst an aura of escalating danger to the Americanos.
What I didn't like:
  • Scenes of cock-fighting. This barbaric "sport" is now illegal in all fifty states and the District of Columbia, and in many other countries as well. Sure, we're talking about Puerto Rico in the early sixties, and the cock-fighting action in The Rum Diary was monitored by the American Humane Association. Soft rubber spurs replaced the lethal metal ones that are normally used to facilitate a fight to the death. Still, there was no attempt made here to cast cock-fighting in any other light than a popular gambling event where lots of money changes hands.
In summation:

It's a patchwork kind of film--thin on plot, but no shortage of belly laughs--if you can enjoy drunken, slovenly, somewhat degenerate type characters (now I'm flashing back to my early family life!) The most unpleasant thing was the guy sitting a couple of seats down from me who was laughing so ANNOYINGLY loud and hard, I felt they should have removed him from the theater. But hey, it's the one place where you get to let it all out--where you get to be just as big of an A-HOLE as some of the characters on the screen... and things being the way they are, we surely need that.

Grade: C +