If The Rum Diary had come out in July, it would have passed as a totally respectable, rum-soaked summer flick with beautiful scenery, beautiful people, gorgeous cars, and zero character development. Like James Bond on vacation. Unfortunately, the Bruce Robinson/Johnny Depp project—based on Hunter S. Thompson’s first (and only) novel, written at age 22 but unpublished until 1998—feels a little thin as we round the corner toward Oscar season.
It’s all too familiar: Depp stars as the Hunter S. character, Paul Kemp, a frayed writer with a serious booze habit who moves to Puerto Rico in the 1960s to escape the madness of New York (and his inability to get a book published). He gets a job writing horoscopes for local rag The San Juan Star, where he also inherits a crotchety editor (Richard Jenkins in a wig) and a tubby best pal/photographer/enabler (Michael Rispoli as Sal) with whom to test the boundaries of homemade rum and LSD. Paul and Sal exist somewhere between wasted and hungover through most of the film, and like with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, all you really remember are the acid trips, the madcap adventure, and the poetry of prose ("beasts of obesity," "tongue like a towel"). The love interest? Nothing more than a pair of red lips. The conflict? Something about building a hotel on an island and aggressive capitalism. The point? Doesn’t matter. Thompson fans will love it regardless.
The Rum Diary is in theaters Oct 28.