“I have no voice,” laments The Rum Diary‘s main character, Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp). “I don’t know how to write like me.”
Ironically enough, The Rum Diary, a movie based on the 1998 novel by one of the most recognizable literary voices in history—Hunter S. Thompson—suffers the same affliction as its cerveza-soaked protagonist.
Usually this third paragraph might elaborate in a neutral manner what the movie in question is about, however The Rum Diary manages to confuse this critic and audiences alike in its failure to outline a definable story.
It begins with the aforementioned Kemp arriving in Puerto Rico after being hired to work for a local newspaper, The San Juan Star. It is here that Kemp meets his future partner in crime (Michael Rispoli). Together the pair of miscreants are involved in a high-speed chase from the police for drunken behavior, an attempt to bring down a corrupt island development tycoon (Aaron Eckhart), a search for love in the Tropics, and finally a second wind to revive their ailing newspaper—all of which are neither adequately fleshed out nor resolved.
So this spotty, tenuous story turns out to be very much like its spiritual predecessor Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, another of Thompson’s adapted tales for the screen (also starring Depp as the main character). Fear and Loathing was crippled by its zany and nearly un-watchable sequences of drug-addled psychedelia. Both movies presented repetitive action which lost their zeal and shock—notably, the central role of illegal cock-fighting as a plot element. Their characters were impossible to relate to and thus we didn’t care about them or draw any sort of emotional connection to them. Even in Kemp’s attraction to and desire for the film’s love interest, Chenault (Amber Heard) nothing charges us to root for Kemp.
What The Rum Diary preserves, though, is an unmatched charm. Depp’s facial expressions are enough to fill the theater with laughter, though his performance is unremarkable and even forgettable. The vistas of the Puerto Rican sunset are pleasing to the eye and Dean Martin’s crooning beckons one to go sailing and enjoy a margarita.
Depp’s vision for an outrageous undertaking of his personal favorite author comes from a caring place (his production company, Infinitum Nihil, put up part of the money for the film’s production) but is horribly misguided in execution. Cinematic failures aside, neither film achieves any sort of expansion on its source material. It is a souffle that will not rise, a sail with no wind, a chip without salsa. 5/10
Kyle Dunn / Editor in Chief
“The Rum Diary” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).