This is a rather unsuccessful adaptation of the semi-autobiographical novel by Hunter S. Thompson, a fictionalised account of his experience as a writer trying to make his mark in the world of journalism and publishing.
Our protagonist’s name is Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp), a struggling author who arrives in Puerto Rico to work as an astrologer for a major newspaper. Whilst writing, his love for alcohol and drugs starts to get in the way of his job. But even when sober Paul finds it hard to progress onto proper investigative journalism, as his Editor (Richard Jenkins) is not keen on rocking the political and social boat.
Paul befriends his colleagues, most notably a failing photographer (Michael Rispoli) and an insane Nazi religious correspondent (Giovanni Ribisi), a dodgy property investor (Aaron Eckhart), and his sexy girlfriend (Amber Heard). These people cause Paul to have many drunken — and sometimes life threatening — days and nights of chaos.
The film has barely a structure to speak of, and serves as yet another reminder that narrative anarchy on the page doesn’t always translate well onto screen. Bruce Robinson, famous for Withnail & I back in 1987, doesn’t give Thompson’s characters good enough dialogue to stop this mattering. He has talked a lot about how there are only a couple of lines of the author’s actual words in the film, and that the only way for him to make it was to write it in his own style instead of Thompson’s. I fear this may be at the heart of the issue.
Johnny Depp is a terrific actor, but I must confess I was bored with the performance he delivers here. It’s very similar in style to his role as Jack Sparrow in the awful Pirates films, except that in this he has sex on camera instead of off it, and wears nicer clothes. As usual with movies about drunkards and druggies, the actors seem to be having a lot more fun than you are having watching them.
In the end, it feels like you’ve spent too long listening to anecdotes from Russell Brand whilst being shown lots of pretty shots of beaches, sea and Amber Heard’s torso. Some may think this all sounds like bliss. For me, it is not a recipe for a good night out at the cinema.
The Rum Diary (2011), directed by Bruce Robinson, is distributed in the UK by Entertainment Film Distributors, certificate 15.