DIR/WRI: Bruce Robinson • PRO: Christi Dembrowski, Johnny Depp, Tim Headington, Graham King, Robert Kravis, Anthony Rhulen • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Carol Littleton • DES: Chris Seagers • CAST: Johnny Depp, Giovanni Ribisi, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard
The Rum Diary has all the ingredients of a potent cocktail but instead packs all the punch of a Virgin Mary. Based on the debut novel by Hunter S. Thompson, the gonzo mind behind the comisterpiece Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; directed by Bruce Robinson, the legendary director of the student drinksterpiece Withnail & I; and starring Johnny Depp, the actor everyone adores. (has he really done anything of substance since Donnie Brasco, 14 years ago?).
The film is based on an unpublished novel Thompson wrote in the ‘60s. According to Depp, he found it in Thompson’s basement in the ‘90s and proceeded to get it published in 1998. The autobiographical story tells of Thompson (under the name Paul Kemp in the novel) in his 20s with failing ambitions of being a novelist, who finds himself working for a paper in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1960.
During his time there he drinks, takes drugs, falls in love, gets arrested and becomes embroiled in corrupt land deals that threaten to wreak havoc on the natural beauty of the island transforming it into a capitalist paradise. In this way writer-director Bruce Robinson uses the film as a means to dramatize Thompson’s gonzo origins as he becomes a part of the stories he reports on.
The film does nothing to contradict the reason the novel lay about for so long and remain unpublished – it’s a bit of a shambles. The story is all over the place, the script is uneven, and the performances often stray into caricature.
There’s one or two decent lines thrown into the mix (‘Human beings are the only creatures on earth that claim a god and the only living thing that behaves like it hasn’t got one’) but overall it’s a surprisingly tiring, listless affair. The disappointing fact of the matter is that The Rum Diary has all the charm of a drunken bore.
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Rum Diary is released on 11th November 2011