Friday, November 4, 2011

The Rum Diary

"Is it me, or was that a little...murky?" quoth The Boy upon departing the new Johnny Depp tribute to Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary. Or was it The Rum Diaries. Well, whichever, the key thing is the rum part.

The movie is based on HST's novel, which I'm sure I started reading at one point, and pretty sure I never finished, and reminded me of the people I've known who were heavy drug users: They start with good ideas and then just wander off in a haze.

The story concerns a hard-drinking journalist (aren't they all) in 1960 Puerto Rico who writes for the island's ailing rag and stumbles into a role with a developer who plans to turn the island's gorgeous coast into a row of hotels serving doughy, white middle-class bowlers. (Apparently, midwesterners went to Puerto Rico to bowl in the '50s. Who knew?)

The movie opens fairly strong, capturing the kind of gonzo feel HST communicated at his best. At its worst it's self-serving, self-indulgent and elitist. (Is it really so awful that someone puts up hotels that employee 10,000 people?) Then there's the drug use.

Point is, the movie defuses itself and seems to be really more about HST than, say, the audience. It's all kind-of proto-'60s, counter-culture, anti-establishment which doesn't seem all that relevant today.

Good acting from Depp, reminding me of his work in Ed Wood. Richard Jenkins plays the cranky (aren't they all) editor-in-chief. Aaron Eckhart plays to type as the evil developer. Amber Heard is beautiful, wild and vulnerable. Michael Rispoli, whom I'm not familiar with, does a fine job as Depp's sidekick. Giovanni Ribisi plays their crazy, drunk, Nazi-loving sort-of roommate.

Cinematographer Bruce Robinson hasn't directed a film since 1992's Jennifer Eight but I think he does fine with the material, which is what it is. Maybe a few too many scenery shots of PR.

You can probably guess if you have any interest at all, based on your feelings about gonzo novelizing and Hunter S. Thompson, but even if you're a fan, I don't think you're going to find this satisfying.

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