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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Rum Diary | Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Giovanni Ribisi and Amber Heard | Review

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  3_Chicks_Small Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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The Rum Diary | Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Giovanni Ribisi and Amber Heard | Review

Booze-soaked journalists in Puerto Rico (circa 1960) substance-abuse their way into ethical territory, surprising even themselves in this Hunter S. Thompson story of rum and revolt.

Hard-drinking Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) fresh from New York, is hired by the San Juan Star’s crotchety, wig wearing editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) to write an astrology column and assorted puff pieces for the newspaper, emphasizing the country’s beauty and ignoring the social inequities.

The native population’s poverty-in-paradise living conditions get the better of Kemp and he can’t help but become a poetic mouthpiece for the downtrodden, writing commentary about the parking meters being fed more than the island’s children.  Not what Lotterman had in mind.

Kemp’s colorful, semi-sober roommates, photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli) and fellow journalist Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi) provide raucous companionship.  There are roosters stashed in a bedroom that Sala enters in cockfights to make extra money.  Moburg has a still and staggers around in a bathrobe when he’s not listening to recordings of Hitler speeches or slurring a semi-coherent diatribe at everything and nothing.  For all of Kemp’s alleged carousing, he just may be the straight guy of the three, although he never met an alcoholic beverage or controlled substance he could refuse.

Blonde real estate mogul Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) has a slinky arm ornament with the improbable name of Chenault (Amber Beard) stashed in his luxurious digs with its own private beach that he forbids the locals from visiting.  She catches Kemp’s eye and we realize that he can see through his perpetual haze of alcoholism long enough to register both sexual attraction (personally) and moral outrage (professionally) – we just don’t know if it’s in equal measure.

Sanderson lures Kemp into a lucrative writing gig highlighting his latest greed-infused project, a resort on a private island designed for maximum profit with minimum conscience.  This provides the film’s crusade for our stumbling brigade, but it’s interspersed with madcap hijinx on the part of Kemp and Sala (and sometimes Moburg) in a series of unfortunate occurrences that result in spitting fire into a police officer’s face and driving a car like a pair of homoerotic acrobats.

The self-destructive behavior is amusing but underscored to the point of near tedium.  After all the outrageous behavior it seems to glorify, the film’s dénouement seems like an anticlimactic cop-out.

Johnny Depp does an admirable though understated job of portraying the reckless, Thompson-based Kemp, reacting more than acting in the role.  It was Depp who was instrumental in getting Thompson’s oft-rejected novel published in 1998 (it was written in the 60’s).

Michael Rispoli is the mouthpiece that fills you in on “things you need to know” and is a likeable guy, easy to forgive for his character’s questionable activities.  Giovanni Ribisi absolutely outdoes himself as the walking wasteland that is Moburg, a creature that makes the real Thompson appear like a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union by comparison.

Aaron Eckhart is a believable, mean-spirited villain and Amber Heard convincingly plays a woman dependent on men, although she’s capable of more range than is allowed here.  Richard Jenkins’ Lotterman deserves kudos for putting up with a staff that prefers getting stiff more than getting the story.

Writer/director Bruce Robinson (Withnail and I) strings together vignettes like a collection of contrasting beads in telling the tale of Kemp’s adventures and sudden transformation into someone that uses his words to “put the bastards (evil-doers, capitalists, no-good-niks) on notice.”

It’s a wild ride that suddenly loses steam, saddled as it is with the luggage of a weak ending that leaves you feeling as if your drink’s been watered down, but the buzz is good while it lasts.

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