Expectations are a strange thing. Depending on where they lay, a movie can be better in the short–run, even if it fades into obscurity in the long–run. This may be the case with Johnny Depp’s new film The Rum Diary, in which the multi–faceted star plays
Jack Sparrow promising young alcoholic journalist Paul Kemp.
A novelist by nature, Kemp flies down to Puerto Rico for a job on the failing San Juan Star, where he meets a stereotypically colorful cast of characters including bewigged editor EG Lotterman (Jenkins), the incomprehensible drug addict Moberg, best friend Salla (Rispolli) and the ever–corporate Aaron Eckhart as the smarmy Hal Sanderson. Kemp meets Sanderson’s girlfriend, the enchanting Chenault, (Heard), soon after landing in Puerto Rico. Running into Sanderson himself, Kemp uncovers a dark, industrial plot looming over Puerto Rico. Through a rum–soaked haze (and an unusually subdued acid trip), Kemp darts around the island, cock–fighting, schmoozing and generally avoiding any achievements until late in the film.
That said, Rum Diary is a fine film, exceeding low expectations; it’s just unmemorable. Depp portrays Kemp with an almost Jack Nicholson sheen, his sneer framed behind sunglasses for most of the movie. Eckhart performs a decent turn as Sanderson, yet it almost seems as if it’s type–cast (The Dark Knight, Thank You for Smoking). All the other actors play their parts well, and Amber Heard portrays Chenault in a generic, damsel–in–distress manner.
Yes, the movie is fun, amusing, and features a couple of nods to Pirates, but it’s also forgettable. One of the primary themes appears to be revealing the sleaze under the escapism of tropical getaways, but Rum Diary never digs deep enough to make a point, nor is it gritty enough to pull off the requisite aesthetic. Rather, Rum Diary dresses itself as good, dirty fun, perhaps masquerading as gonzo journalism at times. Indeed, while the dialogue and plot may reek of Hunter S. Thompson, the film itself seems to fit in more with the Peter Sellers Pink Panther films, going so far as to feature a fantastically farcical car chase.
By all means, go watch Rum Diary. Enjoy it, take in the sights of Puerto Rico, laugh at Kemp’s antics and contemplate some of the profundity resulting from drug use. However, do not expect the film to stay in the public eye for too long — Rum Diary lacks the qualities of a genuine masterpiece, let alone a cult hit, and will most likely leave the audience asking “Where’s all the rum gone?”
2.5/5 stars Directed by: Bruce Robinson Starring: Johnny Depp, Giovanni Ribisi Rated R,120 min. See if you liked: Revenge of the Pink Panther