Combustible Celluloid

The Rum Diary (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Kingdom 'Rum'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Not many people are going to enjoy this movie. It's too long and very sluggish in places, and has no real payoff. However, it's an unofficial follow-up to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), and it marks the return of filmmaker Bruce Robinson, whose Withnail and I (1987) has already slipped into cult classic status. Add that to Thompson's unwavering underground prominence, and you have a cult classic in the making. And most of The Rum Diary is good enough to deserve it.

Failed novelist Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) takes a job writing for a dirtbag newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico, circa 1960. He begins drinking heavily with photographer Bob Salas (Michael Rispoli), but discovers there is more money to be made working with corrupt businessman Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who is looking to blight the countryside with ritzy hotels. Unfortunately, Paul also has his eye on Sanderson's stunning girlfriend, the troubled and troublesome Chenault (Amber Heard). After consuming monstrous amounts of alcohol and bizarre, illicit drugs, he makes up his mind to bury Sanderson with a well-worded article.

Best of all is Robinson's dry, British wit mingling with Thompson's raucous, biting prose, and emerging with some of the most quotable lines of the year, like "my tongue feels like a towel." Though it's not as consistently crazy as Fear and Loathing, Depp's performance is more measured, and more sympathetic, and the movie captures some vivid snapshots of Puerto Rico in action. While it's not 100% successful, most of the time it will have you either laughing hysterically, or mad as hell.

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The Rum Diary
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With: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi, Amaury Nolasco, Marshall Bell, Bill Smitrovich, Julian Holloway, Bruno Irizarry, Enzo Cilenti, Aaron Lustig
Written by: Bruce Robinson, based on a book by Hunter S. Thompson
Directed by: Bruce Robinson
MPAA Rating: R for language, brief drug use and sexuality
Running Time: 120 minutes
Date: October 28, 2011
Please also see my more in-depth review at Common Sense Media
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