Written by: Russell Davidson, CC2K Sports Editor
I liked parts of the new film The Rum Diary, starring Johnny Depp and based on the Hunter S. Thompson novel. Take out the plot concerning some real estate development nonsense, take out the story concerning a hard-times newspaper, and remove the romantic sub-plot narrative concerning Johnny and hottie Amber Heard, and you’ve got a pretty good movie.
It’s the in-between parts of this film that work the best. A prelude of sorts to Depp’s other Thompson adaptation, the vastly superior Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The Rum Diary shows us Hunter as a young journalist in Puerto Rico, drinking and trying to figure his shit out. I’m a huge fan of Fear and Loathing, a film I think most missed the point on that is both ambitious and hilarious. The Rum Diary, conversely, is scaled down and only mildly funny. It helps if you ignore the story structure and appreciate the scenes as they unfold. Scenes of Depp and his fellow journalists getting chased by locals, scenes of Giovanni Ribisi, a riot as burned out writer Moburg, scenes of Heard in a bathing suit, scenes of over-the-top imbibement. This is the good stuff.
Depp is more restrained this time playing Thompson, doing the drunk thing as opposed to the obliterated-by-drugs thing, and he plays this toned-down version of Hunter well. His dismissive and off-handed manner is fun to watch, and the script is peppered with classic Thompson lines which Depp delivers dead-pan, the only way to do it. Once again, like in Fear and Loathing, it’s the humor of Thompson that’s most important. Problem is, The Rum Diary doesn’t feel that the humor is enough so all this other unfunny stuff is thrown in.
Do we really want to hear about rich Americans trying to build hotels? Do we really care that some backwater rag is having its troubles? Are we at all interested in a fabricated romance? I say no. What we want is what this film, and Hunter, does and did best: debauchery, inebriation, oddball characters, bizarre, surreal situations, wild humor, Normalcy vs. the Weird, Straight vs. the Crooked, Sober vs. the Not.
Amusing here and there, nice to look at, The Rum Diary succeeds most when avoiding issues like journalistic credibility and personal integrity. Who cares? Give me more scenes like the one where they eye-drop pharmaceuticals and hallucinate. Now that’s entertainment!