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The Rum Diary
Genre Adventure

I hate it when a movie trailer turns out to be a 2 minute highlights reel. The Rum Diary is one such movie that promises a Dagwood and serves up a crouton. On paper, The Rum Diary should have been all that and more, reuniting the legendary actor-writer team behind Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Johnny Depp and Hunter S. Thompson are like hand and glove, but The Rum Diary will be remembered as the one that didn't quite gel.

Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary has film adaptation potential: the exotic location, high adventure, farcical characters and fish-out-of-water comic sensibility. Talented Withnail & I and The Killing Fields director, Bruce Robinson was lured back from retirement to direct The Rum Diary. The enigmatic Johnny Depp is supported by a solid ensemble including: Giovanni Ribisi as a lunatic, Aaron Eckhart as a property magnate, Richard Jenkins as a frustrated editor, Michael Rispoli as Kemp's accomplice and Amber Heard as a romantic interest. Here's the crux, all of The Rum Diary's ingredients do not add up to the sum of its parts.

The Rum Diary is a fictional novel based on Thompson's own experiences working at a sports newspaper in San Juan and the character of Kemp is pretty much a Thompson avatar. Hunter S. Thompson is credited as the creator of Gonzo journalism, a style of reporting that gives the author license to become a central figure in their story. His writing style is quick and exciting, which made The Rum Diary a natural follow-up to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Johnny Depp brings his suave devil-may-care cool to the picture as Kemp, a writer whose immersion into San Juan culture is fast and furious. He's tossed about like a voodoo doll as a bunch of bizarre characters enter his life and manages to land on his feet despite all the alcohol. Johnny Depp plays Kemp as a reflective sort of character with a tip of the hat to Thompson, reacting to his unique circumstances with fascination and fear. Despite these nuances, it's one of his less memorable roles, one that adds to the overall dilution of what was primed as a rip-roaring adventure.

Director Bruce Robinson captures the essence and spirit of the San Juan culture, but something's been lost in translation. Depp's character doesn't seem to have a driving motivation and just gets bandied about from one situation to the next with a series of colourful San Juan locals. He's a bumbling writer, one who assumes a central character in true Gonzo style, yet fails to justify his involvement... other than being intoxicated and in the wrong place at the right time. The lack of impetus makes each scene a mystery. What's Kemp really after?

The Rum Diary struggles to find a rhythm. There are some funny moments, but not enough to label it a flat-out comedy. There's plenty of mystery and an air of adventure, but the fog never evaporates and the sense of danger and action is about as palpable as a British travelogue. The Rum Diary struggles with its sense of momentum as Kemp never really seems to get any closer to achieving or realising his mission. It's a provocative journey with enough eye candy, whimsy and travel interest to keep you watching... but fails to capture our imagination.

The Rum Diary is laden with potential, but just teases us with its story instead of fully immersing us in its debauched world of smokey mystery and tropical adventure. Perhaps the novel doesn't have enough depth to carry its fire engine of extreme characters and this has just been amplified by the film adaptation? The Rum Diary has all the trappings of lightweight summer holiday escapism, it isn't quite as pithy as Fool's Gold or as superficial as The Tourist but is throwaway entertainment next to a film like The Descendants. Depp fans will sympathise, while others will try to appreciate its sunny disposition.

The bottom line: Breezy

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