Bottom Shelf Booze

The Rum Diary ★★
(USA, 120 min.)
Written and directed by Bruce Robinson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Michael Rispoli, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Hear, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi
File this one under the heading, “Nowhere as good as it should have been.” The Rum Diary, a.k.a. the long-gestating Johnny Depp vehicle and Hunter S. Thompson adaptation, never achieves the heights of its potential. Depp stars as Paul Kemp, an aspiring novelist cum journalist who takes a job in Puerto Rico, which provides the perfect venue to feed his chronic binge drinking. The idea of seeing Depp on a booze-fuelled odyssey in paradise sounds promising, but The Rum Diary provides fewer laughs – and comparatively less substance – than The Hangover Part II.

Moviegoers expecting the gonzo weirdness of Thompsonland will be sorely disappointed by the dull sluggishness of Rum Diary. I think Barney Gumble moves at a faster pace than this film. He probably walks a straighter line, too, for The Rum Diary staggers and weaves through a myriad of hodgepodge storylines, none of which are interesting and even fewer of which make much sense. Ditto the hordes of ho-hum characters, especially Giovanni Ribisi in a performance that is annoying even by the standards with which one approaches his work. Depp himself fares a bit better as Paul, although it would be a stretch for one to call this performance much more than “okay.” There are, however, a few interesting ditties, like a bedazzled turtle, Amber Heard’s sizzling night club scene, and the boys’ trip to a hermaphrodite witch doctor who blesses their chicken before a cockfight. The film also provides some glimpses at the side of resort life not seen on perfect postcards, but the social observations are all but lost in the wayward frenzy of the film.

The Rum Diary is much like a poorly made mojito. When mixed with booze from the bottom shelf, the wrong quantity of mint or sugar leaves one gagging and squirming, yet one still chugs to the bottom of the glass in search of rum’s rewards. Sadly, though, the result is just a mild headache, rather than a joyful buzz. Nevertheless, I’ll gladly sample the next concoction that Depp et al mix up. 

The Rum Diary is currently playing in wide release.