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February 19, 2012
Review - " The Rum Diary "  -  (on DVD) By Roland Hansen
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The Rum Diary
Directed by:Bruce Robinson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard,
Giovanni Ribisi. Aaron Eckhart, Richard Jenkins

For about an hour, "The Rum Diary" looks as though it's
heading somewhere, and for as long as that sweet illusion
is in the air, every good thing about it seems even better: It
has a comical but restrained Johnny Depp, an interesting
historical setting (Puerto Rico in 1960) and some unusually
witty dialogue that sounds like the late Hunter S. Thompson,
who wrote the novel upon which it was based.

That the movie is leisurely and unconventional is all part of
its charm, too - until it isn't anymore. The movie is a tale of
corruption, but then it's not. It's a love story, but no, not
quite. Later, it flirts with becoming a great journalism tale, or
at least a whimsical journalism tale, but that vein leads
nowhere, too. Nor is it much of anything else, except a
disordered ramble. Still, by the time the truth dawns about
"The Rum Diary," the movie has built up too much audience
goodwill for it to become an object of scorn. We just wish it
were better. Here and there, fleetingly, it is.

Set in 1960, “The Rum Diary” stars Depp as young
journalist Paul Kemp, who moves from New York to San
Juan, Puerto Rico, to take a job at a failing English-
language newspaper. Kemp, a Thompson alter-ego Depp
seems too old to play, longs to become a novelist but is
struggling to find his creative voice. However, his true
passion seems to be consuming massive quantities of
liquor, and he quickly divests the mini-bar at his hotel of
161 miniatures, to the consternation of his desperate editor
E.J. Lotterman (Richard Jenkins).
Kemp fits in well at the San Juan Star, which is less a journalistic enterprise than a sort of safe haven for odd, drunken
American expatriates. Kicked out of the hotel, he moves into the ramshackle apartment of affable staff photographer Bob
Salas, who would rather train and bet on fighting roosters than take pictures. Their apartment is also occasionally the home
of semi-fired, decidedly brain-damaged crime writer Moberg (an over-the-top Giovanni Ribisi), a Nazi sympathizer who deals
in exotic drugs and brews extra-powerful rum from filters stolen from the local Bacardi factory.

Although Kemp feels a greater
kinship to the downtrodden
locals than he does to most of
the American expats and
tourists, he still manages to fall
in with Hal Sanderson (Aaron
Eckhart), a slick and greedy
businessman who gives the
aspiring novelist a side job
penning propaganda promoting
his latest real estate scheme.
Kemp’s misgivings about his
new employer’s plot to spoil the
island’s natural beauty in the
name of profit and progress are
no match for the attraction the
writer feels for the Sanderson’s
soon-to-be trophy wife
Chenault (Amber Heard), a
stunning wild child from a
high-class Connecticut family.

Depp, who goes through the
movie doing a not-so-subtle impersonation of Thompson, plays Kemp, a journalist who takes a job at the San Juan Star. A
burgeoning alcoholic, he falls in with his fellow drunks but also gets swept into the circle of a glib and glamorous
businessman, Sanderson, played by Aaron Eckhart. Needless to say there's a woman involved, too - a damsel in a tower in
need of rescue - who happens to be living with the shady Sanderson.
Behind the humor, there's
a sense of despair, of
being lost and living in
some outpost at the edge
of the country. The sense
is enhanced by the
performance of Michael
Rispoli as Kemp's friend,
who gives us a man who's
competent and appealing
but has the aura of
someone who has been
dumped out of a car. The
atmosphere is amplified
further by the odd ugly
detail, such as several
cockfights that look too real
for comfort, and the
occasional line that rings
with perfect irony: "Imagine
what it must be like," Kemp
says, "to be an alcoholic."
Overall the Rum Diary was
better than I expected,
occassionally entertaining,
but ultimately a throw away
for me.