Sunday, 4 March 2012
FILM REVIEW: THE RUM DIARY
20th Century Fox Films
With a title like The Rum Diary, based on a memoir by Hunter S. Thompson, and populated by alcohol-swilling expatriate American journalists in sunny Puerto Rico 1960, it should come as no surprise that this film is chaotic and undisciplined. And it's also a lot of fun.
All of these elements may also explain why director Bruce Robinson, hand picked by star and producer, Johnny Depp, came out of virtual retirement to direct his first feature in 19 years. That last film was Jennifer 8 (1992) but Robinson is best known for the cult classic, Withnail & I, regrettably a 'should've seen but haven't' film for me but one which is also about colourful characters experiencing the '60s through an alcohol/drug infused haze.
Paul Kemp (Depp) is a wannabe novelist who successfully applies for a journalist position with The Suan Juan Star, an American-run newspaper catering to the American colonialists who flock to Puerto Rico to stay in the beach front hotels, and rarely venture outside of them.
The paper's ethos, as set out by the editor, Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), is 'only good news is good news' but Kemp, with a thirst for excitement superseded only by his thirst for alcohol, wants to write about the real Puerto Rico - poverty, corruption, civil unrest, cockfighting - and not the Horoscopes column he's been assigned.
And moving in with Sala (Michael Rispoli) and Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi), two fellow journalists in various stages of having gone native, opens his eyes and mind to the sensory pleasures of the South American paradise. But a meeting with Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) exposes him to the dark side of its colonial interests.
Sanderson works in PR, and he wants Kemp's help in selling the country's untouched islands to US investors as future tourist destinations (because that's what Puerto Rico needs, more hotels and Americans). But if Kemp isn't seduced by the smarmy charms of Sanderson, nor the money he's offering, he's more than willing to be courted if it means he gets to flirt with the PR guy's girlfriend, Chenault (Amber Heard), a smoky-voiced young blonde.
These various plot lines may not always work cohesively, or with any real urgency -- they certainly push the film's running time beyond the necessary -- but this Puerto Rican sojourn remains mostly fun.
Depp, in a relatively straight role compared to his Tim Burton catalogue, gives us a hint of the man (and actor's friend) Hunter S. Thompson was before he become "Hunter S. Thompson" (the memoir was penned before the writer discovered his gonzo-voice), thankfully leaving much of the colour and quirk to Rispoli and Ribisi, and beautiful Puerto Rico.