Friday, October 28, 2011

A Reel Review: THE RUM DIARY

A few years back, a good friend of this blogger remarked about how great Al Pacino used to be; right up to and including THE SCENT OF A WOMAN. After that film, the good friend maintains, Pacino shed his career-long subtle intensity and traded it in for obtruding HO HA HUWAH in every role. This blogger reluctantly agreed. As of late, Johnny Depp seems to have fallen into the same trap. His boyish charm has seemed to go away in place of the eccentricity and dazed bewilderment of Jack Sparrow. The real question is whether or not that style of acting works in any given movie; in this case, THE RUM DIARY.

In the 1960’s, Paul Kemp (Depp) a rum (ahem) guzzling boozehound, is a struggling writer/journalist who moves to Puerto Rico to restart his career at a failing local newspaper, which is run by editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins). Kemp befriends fellow journalists and drunks Sala (Michael Rispoli) and Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi), before being recruited by shady real estate tycoon Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who wants him to paint a rosy picture of his dealings in the press. Kemp guzzles his way through the job, while falling in love with Sanderson’s girlfriend Chenault (a sexed up Amber Heard).

THE RUM DIARY starts off promising, but manages to get complicated. It never latches down onto a single storyline, and comes off as a very confused film. It begins as a man-searching-for-his-path tale, then forgets about it and switches to a lesson in journalistic ethics. It then forgets about that and goes to a real-estate swindle/mystery plot, with a love triangle wedged in just for good measure. Who to root for and why is the real mystery.

Director Bruce Robinson crafts together a film that feels like it would have been made in the 1950’s or ’60, with its snazzy music and beautiful, sweeping landscapes. He has a good eye for cinema, but a so-so ear for humor, as a lot of the jokes and gags are over the top and forced. The latter is forgivable, but his biggest sin is fumbling away the acting talent he assembled.

Depp channels Jack Sparrow all the way; he slurs like Jack, waxes philosophical like Jack, stumbles like a drunken Jack and yells like a scared Jack. Does it work here? For the most part yes; just don’t expect anything new from the man. Amber Heard is grossly underwritten; as a love interest for the protagonist, she’s barely in the film, does little, and the way her character finds closure at the wrap is weak and lame. Giovanni Ribisi is in his absolute worst performance of a lifetime; woefully miscast as a drug addict with way-over the top acting and a horrible voice.

The final act has a nice buildup, and feels like there may be a decent payoff; and then the movie ends with one of the worst, weakest, shittiest cop-outs ever put to film. It’s lazy and thoughtless. Overall THE RUM DIARY feels like a film we are supposed to like Just Because; we are supposed to like it Just Because it has Johnny Depp, a good cast, is nice to look at and is a Hunter S. Thompson adaptation. Sorry fellas, but it takes more rum than that.


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