November 3, 2011

The Rum Diary: Mired in Nonsense

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When Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl first came out, I was among the many viewers who left the theater quoting Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow saying, “But the rum, the rum is gone! If you are expecting to see a repeat of that performance in The Rum Diary, which opened this weekend, prepare to be disappointed. While the film was advertised as a chronicle of Johnny Depp’s crazy rum-filled adventures in Puerto Rico, it’s actually about social injustice, corporate greed and the power of journalism.

The Rum Diary is based on the novel of the same name by Hunter S. Thompson, who also wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. This is not the first time Johnny Depp has appeared in a film adaptation of one of Thompson’s novels. In 1998, Depp played Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, directed by Terry Gilliam.

In this film, Depp plays Paul Kemp, an idealistic young writer working for the San Juan Star to make some money while he completes his novel. Kemp soon meets Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), the cold-hearted businessman whose fiancée Chenault (Amber Heard) looks like Malibu Barbie. Sanderson shows Kemp how he and other American corporate fat cats profit from the suffering of the Puerto Rican people. Kemp uses his writing not only to fight the exploitation, but also to maintain a friendship with Sanderson so he can have access to fancy cars, boat parties and Chenault.

The Rum Diary felt like four movies combined into one: Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, Avatar/Pocahontas, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. The movie simply had too many plotlines. There was the story about the crazy adventures Kemp and his cronies indulged in while drunk off of 470 proof Baccardi. Then there was the story about standing up for the voiceless natives being used by the greedy businessmen. There was also the love story between the naïve writer and the beautiful blonde engaged to someone else and some other miscellaneous storylines that involve characters who don’t seem to serve a purpose. The multitude of plotlines was probably not the screenwriter’s fault, as The Rum Diary was based on a book, but the film definitely could have used some editing. The running time is two hours, but it felt like much longer.

The problems in editing (or lack thereof) may be due to the fact that writer and director, Bruce Robinson, had not directed in 19  years. In an interview with the UK newspaper The Independent, Robinson revealed that he had been sober for nearly seven years before he wrote the screenplay for The Rum Diary. He apparently suffered from writer’s block, so he began drinking a bottle a day for a year until he finished the script. After having seen the movie, this explanation makes a lot of sense.

Even the actors were lacking something in their performances. Depp, as always, commited to his character fully.  Unfortunately, his character didn’t have that much going on. In fact, all the characters seemed fairly flat. Eckhart , though pleasing audiences with his square jaw and piercing blue eyes, failed to make Sanderson a three dimensional character. The same can be said for Richard Jenkins’ portrayal of Edward J. Lotterman, the editor of the San Juan Star who eventually replaces Sanderson as the evil villain.

Weirdly enough, even the soundtrack detracted from the movie. There were awkward moments of silence that begged for some musical background and also times when the music was intrusive. The music was all 50s Tropicana lounge music, which contributed to the feeling that this was not a major motion picture, but one of the History Channel’s attempts at creating fictional content to increase their ratings.

The only redeeming feature of The Rum Diary was that it was fun to look at. The movie, which takes place in 1960, showcases many cute Mad Men-esque styles. The blonde wears some fabulous dresses that look great with the red convertible Johnny Depp drives. Depp spends half the movie looking stoic and handsome, in white linen suits and fedoras, and the other half looking like the victim of horrible train accident.

Overall, The Rum Diary is definitely not worth the eight dollars. My advice would be to watch it on TV in a couple of months. That way you can leave to get a snack or change the channel. If you really enjoy staring at Johnny Depp or Aaron Eckhart enough to sit through what feels like a five hour-long cheesy movie, rent Chocolat and that other movie about food with Aaron Eckhart, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Abigail Breslin and watch them back to back. That would be a much better use of your time and probably a more fun afternoon.

Original Author: Julia Moser