Temper you excitement for Johnny Depp ditching the pirate garb long enough to go gonzo again, because "The Rum Diary," like the novel from which it's adapted, falls well short. It's sad to think writer-director Bruce Robinson gave up years of sobriety to craft this messy movie.
Depp stars as Paul Kemp, an American journalist who in 1960 heads to Puerto Rico to take a job writing for the struggling San Juan Star. Because it's based on Thompson's work, the film opens with the de rigueur scene of Kemp in a trashed hotel room, the victim of his unbridled appetites. It gets no fresher.
Kemp soon finds himself being wooed by Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart's talents being wasted yet again), a weasel-y real-estate developer with a stunning girlfriend named Chenault (Amber Heard). Kemp predictably decides to take down Sanderson and steal Chenault.
"The Rum Diary" feels like a hodgepodge of scenes that were shot in the hope that someone might be able to coherently string together 120 (!) minutes of action and comedy. The film's structure reaches its nadir in a scene where Paul complains that the water's out and he's all covered with soap, and the very next scene finds Chenault inviting herself into his shower. Did he call a plumber? Did the water suddenly come back on? Why didn’t he just invite her to join him before heading back?
Depp's take on Thompson—and make no mistake, Kemp is Thompson—is a watered-down version of the brilliant twitchy perfromance he gave in "Fear & Loathing." It makes sense for Depp to dial back the crazy, as Thompson/Kemp hadn't quite reached the fever-dream madness, but he goes too far.
Amber Heard does yeowoman's work in a thankless role. Cheault is a one-dimensional character, a directionless sexpot chasing the next party, but Heard delivers the heat—while it's still not entirely clear that she can act, she can do sexy for days. Giovanni Ribisi gives the film's only other spirited turn, as Moburg, the Star's derelict crime/religion reporter who swills 450-proof hooch while listening to records of Hitler's speeches.
Even more frustrating is that the film's third act is almost non-existent. There's no final showdown between Good and Evil, just some defeatist resignation followed by the most egregious of title post-narrative explication: "After making his way to New York, Paul…" or some such nonsense. Seriously?
The action in "The Rum Diary" never gets all that heated, the comedy is mostly lukewarm antics, Thompson's trademark prose gets translated into dialogue that lacks spark… even the LSD hallucinations are tame.