Gonzo journalism pertains to gritty and personal writing, attacking the core of an event or person – and abandoning all things polished and censored by mainstream media. The Rum Diary, based on a book by Hunter S. Thompson (who we’ve come to believe is the founder of this type of jagged journalism) is a jarringly dull and ironically impersonal piece of filmmaking.
Set in 1960, it stars Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp (in representation of Thompson) a middling novelist who accepts a job as a freelance journalist for a local newspaper in Puerto Rico.
He’s assigned, initially, to do dogs work: write horoscopes, interview tourists at a bowling alley, and any other insignificant, thankless subject matters.
As time transpires, Kemp’s loyalty is tested once he meets a wealthy consultant by the name of Sanderson (played by Aaron Eckhart) – who offers the perplexed novelist a prominent position as a writer for his new real estate venture.
Swept up in Island culture, money, and Sanderson’s exotic girlfriend, Chenault (Amber Heard), Kemp becomes increasingly indifferent towards just about everything. The local paper that initially hired him is going down the drain, fast. Chenault is not everything she appears to be. And his newfound business partner pans out being the pompous, self-righteous businessman we knew he would be.
But worst of all, Kemp isn’t writing. And when he does, his boss Lotterman (played by Richard Jenkins) shuts him down for his humorous, sincere, and honest articles – lacking sugar coating and manipulation.
And there’s your birth of Gonzo journalism.
The fact that Rum Diary has been sitting on production shelves for three years and is just now getting dumped into theaters is really no surprise. The picture, as opposed to one of Thompson’s articles, doesn’t contain a voice of any kind. It just lies in its mediocrity, constantly veering into the absurdity and only scarcely becoming interesting.
Even Johnny Depp, our biggest so-called movie star, can’t do much to save this sinking boat. While I suspect Thompson is a worthy subject to watch on screen, the character of Paul Kemp is extraordinarily bland. There’s some charisma within the character, sure– but it runs out in about the third act. Perhaps that’s when Depp realized he’s headlining in a lackluster affair.
Amid some truly hilarious scenes and solid performances from the whole cast, The Rum Diary is poorly executed, from its aimless storytelling to trite artistry, only to be exacerbated with an insurmountable two-hour run time that feels about five.
To quote some of Kemp’s final lines of wisdom to his counterparts in regards to the corrupt, “It’s the smell of bastards. It’s also the smell of truth. I smell ink.” At that point, I just wantedT to stand up and say it’s also the smell of a relentlessly tedious movie.
On the upside, at least the title of a film finally correlates to what happens on screen. For what it’s worth, there’s plenty of consumption of rum, rum, and yes, more rum.