The Rum Diary is the kind of film that doesn’t linger after it’s over. It’s not bad enough to mock or good enough to recommend, it kind of is just… there. Depp delivers another good performance but even he can’t save an undercooked screenplay.
Genre(s): Comedy, Drama
Sony | R – 120 min. – $35.99 | February 14, 2012
Directed by: Bruce Robinson
Writer(s): Hunter S. Thompson (novel); Bruce Robinson (screenplay)
Cast: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi
Theatrical Release Date: October 28, 2011
Features: Featurettes, BD-Live
Number of Discs: 1
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 1.85
Subtitles: English SDH, English, Spanish
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
THE MOVIE – 2.5/5
I know very little about author Hunter S. Thompson save the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas feature film adaptation, so I might be the wrong person to review the pseudo prequel (very loosely, of course), The Rum Diary. On the other hand, hopefully I can give the perspective of somebody from the outside looking in since I can’t be the only one who’s never read one of Thompson’s books…
The story opens with a soaring view of Puerto Rico as a plane flies around pulling a banner, this sequence takes us through most of the credit sequence where we meet our protagonist, Paul Kemp (JOHNNY DEPP), a freelance reporter who apparently the night before went on a bit of a binge in his hotel room. Eyes bloodshot and experiencing a massive hangover, he manages to go to his new job at The San Juan Star, a rundown newspaper that is on the verge of collapse. The paper’s editor is Edward Lotterman (RICHARD JENKINS), a straight shooter of sorts but somebody who really has little control. On his first day he is befriended by fellow reporters Bob Sala (MICHAEL RISPOLI) and the offbeat Moberg (GIOVANNI RIBISI).
As he gets adjusted to his new job and the Puerto Rican culture, he’s approached by businessman Hal Sanderson (AARON ECKHART) who proposes that Paul write what Hal and his associates want for a nice kickback. Of course Kemp is hardly the person to go along with this, but his fascination with Sanderson’s fiancée Chenault (AMBER HEARD) keeps him around. Things get a bit more complicated after being out with Sala, they get in a confrontation with the locals which leads to an assault on a police officer. They’re put in front of a judge but Sanderson comes in to bail them out; now not only does Kemp owe Sanderson, but he’s basically in love with the fiancée.
But Kemp is not the kind of person to take this sitting down. After several sips of rum he and his buds fight back against the “bastards” in the hopes of making a difference and Kemp in particular to find his voice.
Even a week after seeing The Rum Diary, I’m still not sure what to make of this film. It certainly has some zany moments but I can’t quite say it’s a compelling movie. Sure, Kemp is a compelling character but that hardly makes the movie itself very interesting. I also had a problem with the antagonist played by Eckhart. He’s just a generic asshole/douchebag businessman. Don’t get me wrong, Eckhart is fine in the role but he’s not really given a whole lot to work with. Similarly, and even more woefully, Amber Heard has a few good scenes with Depp but it doesn’t amount to much and again, it’s more about the screenplay than Heard.
The biggest draw to the film is, of course, Johnny Depp. He slinks back into the role well enough albeit there seems to be more of a Jack Sparrow in Kemp thanks in large part to the rum and a bit of a winking to the camera. Depp is a versatile actor and one of the few who can overcome poor/outrageous scripts (see: The Ninth Gate or any of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels). With The Rum Diary you can clearly see the passion he brings to not only the role but to the picture as a whole serving as a producer.
The most interesting about this project, though, comes behind the camera. Coming out of a 19 year hiatus/retirement, Depp and others asked Bruce Robinson to helm the picture (his last was 1992’s Jennifer 8, an underrated crime-drama if memory serves) and while I liked the style – thanks to Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography; fifth on a Depp movie – there was an energy that seemed to be missing.
I can’t say The Rum Diary is uneven yet at the same time it never quite comes together. The acting is fine but the characters, except for Johnny Depp’s Kemp, are at best thin. The plot is well defined but I honestly couldn’t care less about the outcome. However, the movie looks good utilizing both the beauty and underbelly of the region and Depp’s performance, along with Giovanni Ribisi, does at least makes this worthwhile and not a complete waste of time or an utter mess. Something it might’ve been missing is, perhaps, a voice.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 3.25/5
A Voice of Ink and Rage: Inside the Rum Diary (12:39; HD) – This featurette provides insights to the movie from producer/star Johnny Depp on bringing Thompson’s work onto the screen first getting Bruce Robinson to direct. The featurette also has interviews with others in the cast and crew including Robinson, Amber Heard, Michael Rispoli, etc.
The Rum Diary Back-Story (45:56; HD) is the crown jewel of this release, well, it’s the second of only two features, that gives an extensive documentary on Hunter S. Thompson, including a 1998 interview with Thompson himself, on “The Rum Diary” and how it came about.
BD-Live – Portal to check out other Sony projects. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Previews – London Boulevard, In the Land of Blood & Honey, Drive, Tonight You’re Mine, Retreat
VIDEO – 4.5/5
Sony releases The Rum Diary onto Blu-ray in its original 1.85 widescreen aspect ratio and a nice looking 1080p high-def transfer. The HD transfer takes full advantage of the bright Puerto Rican colors which look absolutely amazing and retains some natural film grain and noise. The detail level is also quite good and sharp throughout while skin tones seem natural.
AUDIO – 4.0/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is good with clear dialogue levels and a well balanced soundtrack. The audio excels with Christopher Young’s score but beyond that it’s merely above average. The rear channels get a little use during the 2 or 3 more action-packed scenes otherwise the center and front speakers provide the most impact.
OVERALL – 3.25/5
The Rum Diary is the kind of film that doesn’t linger after it’s over. It’s not bad enough to mock or good enough to recommend, it kind of is just… there. Depp delivers another good performance but even he can’t save an undercooked screenplay. With regards to the Blu-ray, it offers up nice video and audio transfers and even though the features are limited, the 45-minute documentary on Hunter S. Thompson is a treat.