Would you go see a movie about Rose’s life before she went aboard the Titanic? How about watching a film following the members of Pirate Radio before their radio show? It sounds pretty boring compared to the amazing adventures that happened afterwards. Who wants to hear about random backstory when you can have brilliant tales of triumph, loss, hatred, and love? Sadly, that was what was wrong with The Rum Diary. It was the prequel to the movie you wanted to see.
Let me preface this by saying I have never read the book by Hunter S. Thompson that the movie was based on. I went in without any idea of what I was walking into, which in retrospect, was not the best plan. While the book has a very large following, the movie simply wasn’t enjoyable.
The plot revolves around young journalist/novelist Paul Kemp, played by Johnny Depp, who has a drinking problem. He gets a job at a failing newspaper in Puerto Rico telling horoscopes. As the movie goes on, he notices corruption more and more, until he finally decides to rise up against the so called “bastards”.
The Rum Diary was directed by Bruce Robinson, who is best known for directing the hit, Withnail & I (1987). Since he’s previous directed a hit, you would expect his new movie to be fantastic, correct? Well, keep in mind this is also the man who directed Jennifer 8 (1992), which is generally considered a flop. In that case this movie could have gone either way, and it’s truly a shame it wandered over to join the later rather than the former.
A prime problem lies with the writing. The first half of the movie is an awkward combination of trying-too-hard one-liners and a barrage of bland characters who can’t grasp the idea of realistic reaction. These supposedly ‘snappy’ jokes include how a man died by rape in a bathroom stall, how terrible the government is, and the boss’ toupee. A fine assortment of awful, distasteful humor. Not a single laugh occurred throughout the entire first half. Not even the crack a smile.
But it wasn’t just the writing that was an issue as Johnny Depp wound up being surprisingly disappointment. Naturally he plays an alcoholic, although he does a variation of his style as in every one of his movies. He was not some over the top character this time, but a real person, and therein lies the problem. He toned it down too much, and made the character not only dull, but surprisingly unrealistic in his portrayal. It was almost as though he wandered on set asleep and said his lines. In one scene he takes out his camera and starts snapping pictures of the dilapidated area of Puerto Rico he is walking through that is supposed to be the moment where he realizes that not everything is right in the seemingly perfect touristy world he has been living in. However, after that scene, there is no more noticeable reflection upon what he’s seen. It’s almost as though the information was pushed to the back of the head. Actually, every epiphany he has about his surroundings seems to be shoved down and never heard from again until he suddenly bursts into rebellion in the second half of the movie. It makes it not only odd, but out of character. Even the villain Sanderson, played by The Dark Knight’s Aaron Eckhart, was nothing more than a stereotypical lowlife capitalist. He’s given no real motivation other than pure greed making Two-Face’s character very two-dimensional. However, he does play the bad guy part well, and thus the role was somewhat fun to watch.
The rest of the cast was also plagued with many problems, most fueled by the lackluster dialogue. They were all just stereotypes found in every movie. Every character was simply boring and unsympathetic with no real purpose or humanizing qualities, creating an emotional distance between the film and the viewer. Even in the second half when the pace picked up and things got more interesting, it still remained difficult to connect to. Most attempts at humor were so lack luster that one has to resist the urge to groan out loud.
The film rarely takes the time to fully explain what is going on, which making one wonder if this movie is only for those who have read the book. I was left wondering by the many factors that came into play, leaving me with a feeling of disconcerted confusion. When one go to movies they want to be sucked into the story and be taken away with the characters, but this movie simply repelled me.
Despite these major pitfalls, there were some good points. I laughed more often in the second half of the movie, when the film switches to more physical humor rather than the earlier attempts at wit. The backdrop for the movie was also breath taking; really, who can say that Puerto Rico isn’t beautiful? The sequences of the ocean and sky awed me constantly, and really appealed to my sense of aesthetics. The music throughout the movie is a good match, setting the mood perfectly. It was just the right combination of light hearted, yet thoughtful to give the best perception possible of the sequence.
The title is a perfect way to describe the movie. It felt like a drunken shamble through what would have been a linear plot. You feel off kilter throughout the entire movie, and although it may have been the intended effect, I found it to be a negative. It felt as though bits and pieces were missing throughout the movie, until the end where the plot finally made up its mind on where it wanted to go. All in all it was a boring 120 minutes, although the second half made up for the excruciating pain of the preceding part. One could recommend it, however, only if it were watched eventually for free streamed online or rented on DVD.
5 out 10
Review By Sarah Detrik
Edited By Jamiesen Borak