THE RUM DIARY (Bruce Robinson, 2011)
A semi-trippy mix of conspiracy, sunshine journalism, alcohol, politics, and a very sexy Amber Heard, Bruce Robinson's adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's THE RUM DIARY has Johnny Depp at his comfort zone; as journalist Paul Kemp, Depp navigates the sane and the insane, amidst a sea of white collar crime in 60s sunny Puerto Rico. And we all know Johnny Depp can do bizarre in his sleep.
As the newest writer in a rundown newspaper, Kemp breathes in the Latin culture, both the savory and unsavory. His boss is the pessimistic Edward J. Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) who first assigns him to do daily horoscopes; his best pal is a fellow writer, Bob Sala (Michael Rispoli) who leads him to murkier waters, as if their other fellow writer, the overratedly alcoholic and downright subversive Moburg (a tasteful and noteworthy performance by Giovanni Ribisi) isn't causing enough trouble.
Kemp then gets mixed with PR Consultant Hal Sanderson, who is really more than just a PR Consultant. Sanderson seduces Kemp with promise of wealth beyond his imagination. The catch- he has to be an accomplice into a ploy to engulf a pristine island to be used for real estate interests.
And let's net forget the girl. All the sandy beaches, and the rum, and the Latin flavor would be useless without a foxy lady. Chenault (Amber Heard) proves too hot to handle. Wild, reckless, and unpredictable, Paul readily falls for her, soon finding out she is Sanderson's girl.
Beneath all the humor, politics, and Bohemian lifestyle, THE RUM DIARY actually speaks a lot for journalistic exploitation despite writer/director Bruce Robinson having almost achieved a very powerful blow to the head in terms of morality. Almost.
Somehow I felt that somewhere in the creative process, Thompson's main idea is lost in condensation to fit the running time of a movie. What Bruce Robinson achieved was to outline Kemp's battle against his conscience i.e. the promise of money versus artistic and moral redemption.
And Johnny Depp doesn't look drunk for a character supposed to be drenched in rum. Ribisi is flawless.
Robinson ends his film in despair, with the supposed payback on the "bastards" destroying journalism taking place in a future scenario. I wonder how it appears in the book.
Nevertheless, THE RUM DIARY is one wild ride. It may not fulfill its full potential, but it works rather well as a passable morality tale. Think of it as a hangover after a heavy drinking session last night.