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Friday, November 4, 2011

The Rum Diary (Release Date: 10-28-2011)

        It's a strange thing that Johnny Depp, truly one of America's most versatile thespians, has essentially been alternating between three things for the last several years. I don't need to tell you that hamming it up as Captain Jack Sparrow is one of them, and, at this point, each of his make-up drenched Tim Burton characters have started to blur together. But then there's Depp's fascination with Hunter S. Thompson, a preoccupation that goes far deeper than just aping the man in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In the same way that the actor harbors a clear desire to be remembered as his iconic swash-buckler, it would appear that Depp also wants to serve as Thompson's on-screen avatar. Having already been part of a not-so-subtle (like... at all) allusion to the man in Rango earlier this year, Johnny's Hunter-centric pet-project, The Rum Diary, finally hit screens this weekend after years of pre-production issues, solidifying his status as the cinematic Gonzo.

        Like some sort of coming-of-age story/prequel to Fear and Loathing, Depp stars as a much younger Thompson (here assuming the name Paul Kemp) who has just arrived in Puerto Rico, looking to write through his days, and drink through his nights. He's hired at a lousy english-language paper by a surly worry-wart of an editor named Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), and befriended soon afterwards by the trusty, plain-speaking Sala (Michael Rispoli). The party seems to be going just fine until Kemp meets Chenault (Amber Heard), a divine creature capable of triggering copious amounts of lust who would be Kemp's dream girl (or any man's, for that matter. The film walks miles to stress this) were it not for her smarmy, underground-deal-making boyfriend Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart). This is the frame-work of the film, not exactly a plot, per say, but a variety of fun locations and over-the-top characters to alternate between.

        If that last comment made the movie sound a bit meandering, then... BINGO! Like a kid with an impossibly vast array of toys to choose from, Writer/Director Bruce Robinson proves completely unable to stay on one subject or idea for any sustained period of time, a quality that, in the end, renders the movie a bit pointless. If someone were to ask me what The Rum Diary was really about, I would probably change the subject. This is also the culprit behind the film's saggy middle: At two hours, the movie is quite possibly the single most over-long flick of the year. But if there's one thing that Thompson's entire career proved, it's that pointlessness is its own brand of fun, and that's a notion that this movie takes to heart.

        Rather than developing a plot, or adhering to any real sense of progress, The Rum Diary plays out like a movie comprised of about 100 mini-One-act plays, each of them stuffed to the brim with gorgeously unrealistic dialogue, and actors playing it broad and maniacal. Jenkins rattles off a winning zinger at least once per minute of screen time, Heard throws herself at the sex-pot role with wild abandon, and Giovanni Ribisi plays the drunkest drunk that the world has ever seen, his intense commitment to theatricality either revelatory or obnoxious, though I have yet to decide. It also doesn't hurt that The Rum Diary is impossibly pleasing to the eye, Dariusz Wolski's utterly brilliant camera work meshing perfectly with the vintage, tan-tinged universe in which Robinson colors the film. TRD is aimless, purposeless, and a total blast, only really mis-stepping when it tries to marry Kemp's mischief with a sense of growing social consciousness. Forgettable it may be, but a bad time The Rum Diary is not.

Grade: B

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