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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Why does this movie exist? I realize it is based on a novel by Hunter S. Thompson (which the filmmakers were clearly hoping to capitalize on), but I do not understand what the point of this film is. Nothing happens. Well, of course stuff happens, but I feel that the aimless journey the characters go on have no consequence. Maybe that is the point, but while that might work for a novel, it does not for a film.
The Rum Diary finds Johnny Depp as would-be writer Paul Kemp who takes a job at a quickly dying newspaper in 1960s Puerto Rico. Once there, he becomes friends with his quirky co-workers and falls in with a shady business man (played by Aaron Eckhart) which results in several wacky misadventures. In many ways, this film unsurprisingly serves as a spiritual prequel to 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. However, The Rum Diary has neither charm nor over-the-top insanity which made that prior film the cult classic it is.
I suppose the main problem is that the film is completely unfocused. There are several dangling plot lines that are never explored enough to make the viewer care. It could be argued that the events do not matter; it is the character’s journey. However, even then, Kemp does not have any sort of personal revelation or character arc; he is the same person at the beginning and end of the movie. The film tries to set him up as an irresponsible drunk, but nothing in the film follows through with this. If anything, he is shown to be very apt at doing his job even when he heavily drinks.
The biggest sin of The Rum Diary is that the moment the movie shows a sign of narrative direction, it ends. Even worse is that it ends with the dreaded “and-then-what-happened” title cards. It left me, as a viewer, a case of “who cares?”.
The Rum Diary is not very good. Due to its unfocused nature, the film drags. To the film’s credit, the acting is really good (with Depp and Eckhart, how could it not be?) and the cinematography is well done. And, to be honest, some of the misadventures Kemp and his friends get into are amusing. However, those few things do not make up for the severe failings of The Rum Diary. In fact, you can find all the positives in the trailer. You would be better off checking that out instead; it will save you time.