The Rum Diary

JONATHAN SENIOR finds too many hangovers and not enough heart in Johnny Depp’s new film.

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Directed by Bruce Robinson

[rating: 2/5]

The Rum Diary is a strange film. In its opening scene we find Johnny Depp waking up to a wreck of a hotel room with a stinking hangover. Clothes, broken bottles and blood cover the floor. The mini-bar has been pulled off the wall because he couldn’t find the key. The room-service waiter is left speechless at the sight of Depp – guzzling down a container of headache pills whilst covered in cuts and with eyes badly bloodshot – and the surrounding evidence of the night before.

It sounds like the beginning of The Hangover Part III, and the similarities to the comedy franchise do not end there. So much of this film follows Paul Kemp (Depp) on his drunken escapades, and the several belly-aching comedy moments are very reminiscent of The Hangover in crudeness and hilarity.

Johnny Depp: the next one man wolf-pack 

In fact, the scenes where Kemp and his alcoholic accomplices face prison after setting a policeman’s face on fire, enjoy the freakiest of trip-outs after taking some unknown narcotics, or visit a witchdoctor who vomits up a toad in order to bless their champion cock-fighter are probably the most entertaining things The Rum Diary has to offer.

But this is telling of a film that purports to be so much more than simply a story of drunken escapades. It seems that comedy moments were intended to complement a serious and bleak plot in which Depp’s talented but frustrated character begins work at a struggling Puerto Rican newspaper. And there he is supposed to grow increasingly disillusioned by the terrible greed of the Americans who had made fortunes on the island at locals’ expense.

Aaron Eckhart turns in a good performance as Sanderson, a slick but shady American businessman who epitomises the wrong that Kemp observes on the island, while Amber Heard is suitably sexy and conflicted as Sanderson’s fiancée Chenault, who falls for the typically quirky charms of Depp’s character.

Paul Kemp could have been such an interesting and compelling hero, but that’s just not the case. He’s an entertaining drunk and is rather cute in his love for Chenault, but his sudden turn against Sanderson is very unconvincing. It is clear from the very start  that Kemp feels some sympathy towards the locals of Puerto Rico. There’s no explanation why he goes from willing to work with Sanderson and make the locals suffer to vehemently opposing this “bastard,” which is just baffling.

Depp does his best to provide a nuanced performance of Kemp, and during the scenes of drunken stupor he is even more hilarioushere than he was as his other rum-swilling character, Captain Jack. Yet there is little Depp can do to remedy the film’s weakness when Bruce Robinson’s adaption of the original Hunter S. Thompson novel leaves such a confusingly incomplete picture of Kemp’s motivations. A film that had so much potential is let down by the muddled script, giving us an inexplicable ending.

In spite of some impressive performances, a wonderfully vibrant Caribbean setting and some brilliant cinematography, The Rum Diary is ultimately a bit of a mess. Its best moments are funny despite the plot clearly aiming at a more serious tone, while the greatest problem is that its main character is supposed to be shown as a man who was “lost” but finally gained a purpose in life.

The way that he gained the purpose of opposing American greed is not clear, and in reality, the film leaves the audience feeling even more lost than poor old Paul Kemp himself.