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Thursday
Oct272011

Movie Review: ‘The Rum Diary’

Kevin Winter/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Based on a semi-autobiographical book the late Hunter S. Thompson wrote when he was 22 but didn’t publish until 1998, when he was 61, The Rum Diary stars Thompson’s buddy Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp, an unabashed alcoholic and aspiring writer who takes a job with a newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  It’s late 1950s, when Nixon and Kennedy are locked in a battle for the presidency, the Puerto Rican people take to the streets of the nascent commonwealth daily protesting for fair wages, and cockfighting is all the rage.
 
When we first meet Kemp he is, metaphorically speaking, lost. He wakes up in a fancy hotel after an all-night bender, his bloodshot eyes greeted by a room strewn with upturned furniture and empty bottles of booze.  He also shows up a day late to his interview with Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), a cigar-chomping, wig-wearing epitome of the angry newspaper editor. If you’re breathing, he hates you, an attitude born of a lifetime of professional frustration and disappointment.  It’s a testament to Jenkins’ stellar performance that it takes all of 15 seconds to figure out who Lotterman is.
 
Jenkins’ performance is emblematic of this flawed film -- a compelling character defeated by a plodding narrative that never entices or excites.  It’s also worth mentioning that Michael Rispoli is fantastic as Kemp’s haggard, scamming photojournalist sidekick, while Aaron Eckhart as the crafty, exploitative local businessman Sanderson also delivers, as usual.  Depp, however, gives us perhaps the most confusing performance of his career. Just as Kemp is supposed to be struggling to find his voice as a writer, Depp struggles to find Kemp.  It’s commendable that he got The Rum Diary made but it falls way short of the precedent set by Depp’s first foray into the world of Hunter S. Thompson, 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
 
Two-and-a-half out of five stars.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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