McCoy on Movies: The Rum Diary PDF Print E-mail
Written by Tabari McCoy   
Monday, 07 November 2011 05:35

McCoy on Movies: The Rum Diary
Johnny Depp is back in theaters this week in The Rum Diary. But is this boozy adventure a great one to toast or a bit hungover? Click here to find out!
"This would be so much easier if they had invented the iPad - Or even a laptop - in the 1960s ..." Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) takes a moment to reflect on the experiences that helped create Hunter S. Thompson's "lost" novel THE RUM DIARY. Credit:


KEY CAST MEMBERS: Johnny Depp, Michael Rispoli, Giovanni Ribisi, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard and Richard Jenkins

WRITER(S): Hunter S. Thompson (novel); Bruce Robinson (screenplay)

DIRECTOR: Bruce Robinson



THE PLOT: Adapted from the "lost" Hunter S. Thompson novel of the same name, The Rum Diary stars Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp (who is essentially a vision of Thompson himself), a journalist who finds himself in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1960. Tired of New York and many of the socio-political trappings of life in America, Paul has just taken a job to write horoscopes with The San Juan Star, run by Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), an editor long in the tooth (and short in actual follicles on the top of his head).


Paul then begins to fully engrain himself with the indulgences of his new surroundings, that primarily being rum ... A lots of it. Of course, his newfound co-worker/drinking buddy Sala (Michael Rispoli) makes it easy for him to do as such ... And once you throw in the unique personality that is the Star's religion/spirituality writer Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi), it's easy for Paul to indulge quite a bit.


As fate would have it, though, Paul finds something else he fancies even more than booze - Chenault (Amber Heard), the Connecticut-born fiancée of Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), an American businessman with a plan: Convert an untouched (other than by the military) part of Puerto Rico into a vacation paradise for fellow rich Americans like himself. Sanderson wants Paul to serve as his voice of marketing by helping write the brochure potential tourists will see and that leaves our protagonist with a bit of a dilemma: Sell out and help Sanderson reach his dream ... Or stay true to himself in the quest for truth while exposing the seedier sides of how some people seek to achieve "the American dream" ...


THE TAKE: Here is the easiest way to determine whether or not you will like The Rum Diary: Are you a big Johnny Depp or Hunter S. Thompson fan? If yes, the answer likely then is "yes." Are you tired of Depp playing boozy characters and relying on his inherent charm moreso than his talent and wouldn't know Hunter S. Thompson from Thompson's Water Seal, then more than likely no. How can there be such a big divide between the two, you wonder? Well, the answer is simple ...


The Rum Diary is a boozy, flirty adventure that feels all too familiar ... And yet not familiar at all at the same time.


Think of The Rum Diary like a typical episode of Saturday Night Live, save for the musical performances ... There are some moments which are really funny, some are really odd, the star makes his presence known and at other times feels underutilized (or dare I say disinterested despite Depp's personal history with Thompson). It all adds up to a movie with some memorably entertaining moments - particularly any involving Ribisi (who steals damn near every scene he's in) as the oddball, drug-loving, Nazi-sympathizing Moberg and the Volkswagen that Paul and Sala drive.


Other than that, though, the story is a lot like Thompson's famous adventures their selves: Rambling, a little misguided and unfocused with what, for some, may be a less-than-stellar payoff. It's almost like a Coen brothers movie without the Coen brothers fit and polish. For every good, drug-induced sequence, there are a lot of moments sober eyes won't enjoy. Save for Ribisi and Imperoli, the cast's acting feels a bit disinterested or too intense for the moment, particularly in the form of Eckhart. (You know his character is a jerk from the second he appears on screen and there's really not much to him ... Then again, considering Thompson's take on the "bastards" that need exposing via his Gonzo journalism style, that shouldn't be too surprising.)


PARTING SHOT: The Rum Diary is like a shot of tequila: Great for some, okay for others and off-limits for many ... Which response you have, however, remains to be seen ...



Tabari McCoy -

Tabari McCoy is Cincy Chic's movie critic. You can check out more of his work on his blog at and follow him on Twitter at @tabarimccoy


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