THE RUM DIARY Review - Not To Everyone's Taste

The Rum Diary is an average piece of entertainment that contains some top-notch acting, witty dialogue and glossy Hollywood glamour.

rating: 2.5

The Rum Diary might have had a horrific opening in the USA, but that's unlikely to temper the expectation among those keen to catch this film. What's so special about it? Oh, only that it contains several massive cult figures with a mainstream budget and a host of goodwill, that's all. But these selling points may also be the death knell of a film that uneasily marries all of these elements, each of which is carefully guarded by an army of purists. Angry, vitriolic purists. FUN QUIZ QUESTION #1: Which type of purist am I? (The review will give you hints, but I'll give you the answer at the bottom of the page anyway). The reason so many people are likely to be furious isn't obvious from the subject matter of the film. The story tracks journalist Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) as he flees the confines of Eisenhower-era America to write for a ropey Puerto Rican rag called the San Juan Star. Unfortunately, the paper isn't in good shape. Editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) is eking puff pieces from a bunch of permanently sozzled hacks, and in Kemp he's recruited another rum-soaked loser. But in the eyes of local land baron Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) Kemp has a lot of potential. He wants to recruit Kemp to launch a publicity campaign designed to convince the locals that his plan to build a massive hotel on an unspoiled island nearby is a good idea. However, Kemp isn't sure he can help. For one thing, it'd be morally bankrupt of him to do so. For another, he's quite distracted by drunken antics with new friend Sala (Michael Rispoli). But then again, Sanderson's fiancé Chenault (Amber Heard) is a mighty attractive lady, and Kemp fancies his chances if he can hang around... FUN QUIZ QUESTION #2: Name one good film Amber Heard has been in. Now this all sounds like a relatively fun film. Few laughs, bit of politics lurking in the background, sun, sea and booze. And behind this opinion lies the first purist you encounter. 'It's only a bit of entertainment' Purists: The idea that a film should be nothing more than glossy eyeball fodder to cackle at as you munch popcorn and slurp sugary beverages is a prevalent one. And believers don't like too many nutrients in their junk food, if you get my drift. There just has to be lots of explosions, and car chases, and preferably sex. Sadly, 'The Rum Diary' isn't very tightly written, so lots of 'ideas', and 'motifs' creep in. Its plot meanders all over it's many and various themes, pausing only to spout dialogue (heaven forfend!). There's plenty of amusing moments, and glamour galore, but too much acting, talking and pontificating on its core subject matter (more on that momentarily) to please your average entertainment purist. There's even a large amount of staring and thinking, enough to bore many viewers who fall outside of this category. So if you're an action or glamour junkie, this might be best avoided. The reason that 'The Rum Diary' meanders through so many arenas, mercilessly ignoring the need to feed us eye candy, might have something to do with another core purist that must be pandered to - those that worship at the altar of Hunter S. Thompson. FUN QUIZ QUESTION #3: Which of the entertainment purist's favourite things doesn't feature in this film? Thompson Purists: 'The Rum Diary' is based on a novel by Hunter S. Thompson (as if you didn't know). The first novel by Hunter S. Thompson, no less. This has three major impacts on the film. Firstly, and this is what I'm alluding to above, the filmmakers have to make this in some way about Thompson. The main way this is done is by depicting proto-gonzo scenes in which we figuratively witness the birth of the writer's voice. These moments are, on the whole, pretty well handled. But sometimes they're bluntly inserted, and frustrate attempts at making a more fluid, engaging and entertaining story. It's like Bruce Robinson wanted to tell a great story about a journalist finding himself, but kept realising it was Hunter S. Thompson and feeling the need to acknowledge that fact. The second impact of Thompson's looming presence is that anyone who loves the book will be furious that a man character (Yeamon) has been ditched entirely, or rather, sort of rolled into Kemp and Sanderson. The third is that his presence might lead some to expect another 'Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas'. Anyone who expects this will be bored to tears. So, Thompson purists, unless you can put aside your burning desire for righteous, vitriolic and substance-fuelled madness, you're not going to love this film. But there's one final purist to be considered, and they're easily forgotten among the big two. No, I'm not talking about Depp fans. He, like the rest of his cast, does himself proud in the role. He's not too 'gonzo' for director Bruce Robinson's personal take on the journo, and he exudes his usual charms with irritating ease. And in scenes with Michael Rispoli and Giovanni Ribisi (who plays an alcoholic who's melted his own brain, apparently) the comic timing is impeccable. In fact, the final purist I'm talking about relates to the director himself. Bruce Robinson was brought out of a 15-year retirement for this film, and his most famous film, 'Withnail & I' now boasts cult status. 'Withnail & I' purists: Some people just love good, quotable dialogue. Lines that pop into your head as you buy something in the shop, or order a beverage in a public house. These people love talky indie comedies like 'Withnail & I', which pulse with a timeless with and verve that makes them eternally quotable. Fans of this film will doubtless be expecting some of that magic here. Sure enough, it appears now and then, in fleeting glimpses of verbal brilliance. Sadly, no sooner have they surfaced to tickle our funnybones than they sink beneath the combined weight of Hunter S. Thompson's ghost and the layers of Hollywood glamour slathered on top. Sad times. So, assessed on its merits, 'The Rum Diary' is an average piece of entertainment that contains some top-notch acting, witty dialogue and glossy Hollywood glamour. It's all tied together a bit loosely, and it doesn't really go anywhere, but it's not a bad film. For your average punter, it's a steady 3/5 film. The trouble is, it's core audiences aren't 'your average punter'. If you (like me) match any of the categories above, be warned: the conflicting aims of each of the purist factions makes this a frustrating watch, more likely to end in disappointment than the pseudo-religious glee we expect from our big screen deities. For us, it's a 1 or a 2/5. FUN QUIZ ANSWERS: 1) 'Withnail & I' purist, (2) She had a small appearance in 'Zombieland' - pretty much all her others are cak, which is a shame, because she's very talented, (3) Explosions The Rum Diary is released in the UK from today.
Contributor

Michael Edwards hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.

Discussion