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Hard-drinking journalist Paul Kemp takes a job at a besieged newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His volatile editor, Lotterman, assigns him to tourist pieces and horoscopes, but promises more. Paul rooms with Sala, an aging and equally alcoholic reporter, in a rundown flat. Sanderson, a wealthy entrepreneur, hires Paul to flack for a group of investors who plan to buy an island near the capital and build a resort. Sanderson's girl-friend, the beguiling Chenault, bats her eyes at Paul. His loyalties face challenges when he and Sala get in trouble with locals, when a Carnival dance enrages Sanderson, and when the paper hits the skids. Is the solution always alcohol? Written by
The film begins with main character Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) waking up in a luxurious hotel room in Puerto Rico after a heavy night of drinking. After chomping down a few aspirin, Kemp stumbles into the editors office of the San Juan Star and is given a dead end writing job. After a few chance encounters, Kemp becomes the center of intrigue and corruption while consuming copious amounts of alcohol.
"The Rum Diary" was originally a novella from the twisted mind of Hunter S. Thompson an eccentric journalist and novelist who in addition to smoking, snorting, injecting, drinking every drug, alcohol and carcinogen known to man, managed to change the face of journalism by calling it as he sees it. His writing can repel and enchant with equal measure and has a breakneck spontaneity which is rivaled by its frazzled incoherency.
Incoherency would be the best word to describe this film. The story lacks any kind of focus jumping from a love story, a corrupt land deal, drunken antics, workplace politics and racial tensions. Watching "The Rum Diary" was liking talking to a drunk grad student; little flashes of genius may linger but after what seems like four hours you realize you're talking to a drunken idiot and looking for the door.
Thompson's other work adapted to screen shares a similar inconsistency but say what you will about "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" at least it was interesting. Director Bruce Robinson seems unsure behind the camera trying desperately to balance themes and while Terry Gilliam threw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, Robinson compensates by drawing out its screen time and keeping the camera-work and editing as dull and uninspiring as possible.
The films only saving grace is the inclusion of Giovanni Ribisi as a cirrhosis addled, syphilitic cohort who takes LSD while listening to records of Nazi propaganda. His arguments with the Star's head editor (Richard Jenkins) provide some of the few precious moments of humor.
The epilogue appears while Johnny Depp sails into the horizon explaining that while its the end of the story "...its the beginning of another." I would have liked to have seen the other story. At least by then the sardonic wit of Thompson was finally present.
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