The Rum Diary
Directed by Bruce Robinson
Terry Gilliam and Johnny Depp's take on Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas showed the visual and verbal slapstick of a permissive era tumbling into a horizonless morning after—as did its closest overseas analogue, Bruce Robinson's Withnail & I. But in adapting The Rum Diary—a novel Thompson wrote at 22, put aside after several rejections, and published decades later to a by then enormous audience of acolytes and enablers led by Depp himself—Depp and Robinson self-indulge without arriving at a sense of limitations, and celebrate clarity without demonstrating any self-awareness. It's a frankly embarrassing work of fan fiction and aggrandizement-by-association.
The Birth of the Gonzo: Depp plays callow rewrite man Paul Kemp, who upon his arrival in late-50s San Juan hedges his bets politically (though he's preternaturally sage about the Kennedy-Nixon debates, watched with binoculars through a neighbor's window) and claims, at least, to be cutting back on the drinking. Depp, doing his Dr. Thompson voice again, is very funny when reacting with startled, brow-furrowed objectivity to debauched expats, restless natives, and indecent proposals, at least until his maiden voyage on hallucinogens inspires visionary prose (declaimed in triumphal voiceover) on par with his namedropped heroes Wilde and this "junkie called Coleridge."
The life of the reporter abroad, filing early and hitting the bar, initially leaves Kemp plenty of time to marinate in the exposition of fisheye-lensed character actors. His editor (Richard Jenkins) repeatedly explains the financial disincentives to hard-hitting journalism; even more explicit is local powerbroker Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who, when not cussing out local intruders on his private beach, attempts with crass descriptions of "oceans of money" to seduce Kemp into joining his secret plan to build a luxury resort on an untouched isle. (Sanderson's nefarious plot, sniggered over at length with ugly Americans, apparently hinges upon Kemp's ability to write an extremely persuasive brochure.) These tourist-trap dreams offend the ethics, and aesthetics, of Kemp, who sneers at the fat fucks who populate hotel bowling alleys, and demonstrates his budding eye for authenticity by photographing the impoverished local children, all of which is pretty rich, really, coming from somebody with his own private island.
Opens October 28