Perhaps they needed more rum while filming The Rum Diary. Writer-director Bruce Robinson’s tepid bore is an adaptation of a Hunter S. Thompson novel that, save for a lively line or two, removes all the zip from Thompson’s prose and has star Johnny Depp (a friend of the late gonzo journalist) looking like he just wandered in from The Tourist. Like that bomb, The Rum Diary is unrelentingly action-less and devoid of Depp’s usual crackle; though the actor likely wanted to pay tribute to Thompson by embodying his alter-ego Paul Kemp, he would have better served the writer’s memory by putting the brakes on the project once Robinson (Jennifer 8) got his hands on it.
Kemp is one of the least interesting characters in the film, an alcoholic New York journalist who moves to Puerto Rico in 1960 to work for a failing newspaper. But the guy’s more hesitant observer than wildman scribe. After being relegated to churning out horoscopes by his fatalist editor (Richard Jenkins), Kemp becomes intrigued when a wealthy businessman (Aaron Eckhart) comes to him with a proposition of questionable journalistic ethics. Meanwhile, Kemp crushes on the guy’s girl (Amber Heard) and bumbles around—yes, usually drunk, but in a most sober way—with his unkempt colleague Sala (Michael Rispoli). (Giovanni Ribisi has a small role as an even more unkempt and possibly delusional peer, but the actor’s high nasal affect and forcibly wacked-out performance reduce the role to a sight gag.)
And that’s about it. There’s no question that the deal Kemp is offered is sinister; there’s no chemistry between Depp and Heard; there’s no fun when the characters go carousing, mostly because their drinking after (or during) a pathetic day of work is more like imbibing at a funeral than anything remotely celebratory. Even the cinematography is dim. (Quite a feat while shooting under the Puerto Rican sun.) The most interesting line comes during a trip of the drug-induced kind: “Your tongue is like an accusatory giblet!” If you want a more accurate taste of Hunter S. Thompson, revisit Depp’s turn in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and forget this foray into fiction.