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Rum Diary Reviews: Mild Diversion, Vividly Average, Wildly Indulgent, Idiosyncratic

by Anne Thompson
October 24, 2011 5:39 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood

Johnny Depp is on the promo trail for the long-delayed literary adaptation The Rum Diary (October 28), his second run at his fave writer Hunter S. Thompson--although reportedly, the star of Pirates of the Caribbean and the upcoming The Lone Ranger can't talk about the movie on Disney-owned ABC affiliates. While FilmDistrict did not take the film to early fall film fests, they're spending heavily on outdoor ads and TV spots. Depp did a Q & A at the opening of Elvis Mitchell's Film Independent series at LACMA on October 13, and the film played the Austin and Hamptons Film Festivals. And after an invite-only UC Berkeley screening and Q & A for The Rum Diary, Depp took over music club Shattuck Down Low and served up Hunter's punch cocktails and live music (here's more). And Depp sat down with Fandango.

So far the alcoholic Rolling Stone writer and movies have not mixed well, from Depp's first foray into channeling the boozehound, Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, to 1980's Where the Buffalo Roam, starring Bill Murray, and Alex Gibney's noisy doc Gonzo, which Depp narrated. Thompson has a great voice as a writer. It's possible that he's better read than seen and heard. This movie is no exception: Withnail & I writer-director Bruce Robinson, returning to the screen after a long hiatus (profiled by the LAT), lavishes much affection on a snazzy evocation of the late 50s in Puerto Rico. The colorful locations and many of the actors-- especially Richard Jenkins, Aaron Eckhart and Amber Heard--are enjoyable, for a while. But Depp's unfocused portrayal of Thompson leaves a hole at the center of the movie, and Giovanni Ribisi wears out his welcome real fast.

Here's Thompson and his dalliance with Playboy, and a round-up of early reviews, below, with clips.

Thompson on Hollywood

Variety:

"The film as a whole is best appreciated as a succession of richly rendered moods, plenty stimulating in the moment but rarely coalescing into something greater."

THR:

"The Rum Diary remains a relatively mild diversion, not at all unpleasant but neither compelling nor convulsive. This stems in significant measure from the diffident nature of Depp's character; hiding behind dark shades much of the time and affecting a hipster stance while remaining relatively cautious and noncommittal, Kemp doesn't inspire strong engagement. Strangely enough, there's a dose of Jack Sparrow in the characterization,..Kemp sort of bumbles into situations in a faux-innocent way, without particular focus or intent, and somehow muddles through,..As very few American films have been shot there, locations representing San Juan and environs a half-century ago are suitably fresh and evocative. The eclectic soundtrack also contributes to the smartly nostalgic feel."

indieWIRE:

"'Vividly average' is the term used to describe the Puerto Rican readership of a raggedy newspaper in “The Rum Diary,” Bruce Robinson’s adaptation of the early Hunter S. Thompson novel. It could also describe the resulting movie,..Robinson takes a step back from the story’s hapless protagonist to observe the evolution of his behavior. That’s both to the movie’s credit and its chief flaw,..[It] still has enough spirit to turn it into a sufficiently entertaining romp in between the lulls,..As the movie approaches a descent into mayhem and then pulls back, it remains—against all odds—a fairly sober history of journalism’s loosest cannon."

Screen Daily:

"For better and for worse, The Rum Diary has all the hallmarks of the passion project it very much is. Wildly indulgent and skilfully idiosyncratic, this period drama based on a Hunter S. Thompson novel meanders like its drunken, aimless characters, and depending on which sequence in the movie you’re watching the results can be either sublime or tedious. Overlong yet quite affecting in parts, The Rum Diary ends up an arresting snapshot of Puerto Rico in 1960, even if its story is only sporadically compelling."

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