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The Rum Diary

a film by Bruce Robinson

Hunter S. Thompson once said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." Well, it takes one hell of a talent to take the weird drug-fueled writings of gonzo journalist, a veritable hotbed of larcenous tomfoolery and adventurous swine-baiting, and transform them, lock, stock and no smoking barrels into a motion picture so restrained, so drained of any and all semblance of life, as to almost put this critic, and occasional Thompson admirer, into such a deep catatonic stupor one would start to believe there were some of the author's more down-trodden drugs involved. Well, unfortunately for everyone involved, director Bruce Robinson is just that talent. In more basic, less hyperbolic terms - The Rum Diary is an outright snooze fest.

Based on Thompson's first and only novel, written in the early sixties, when the then twenty-two year old future lord of the gonzo was more of an idealistic romantic - as many a young intellectual is - but not published until 1998, this free adaptation of a relatively drab book (written long before Hunter S. Thompson became the Hunter S. Tompson), is perhaps not the most lightning-round effective evocation of the latter day hipster HST legend, and the particular source material may not be the most incendiary of the author's increasingly similar, but regularly batshitcrazy bookshelf bibliography, but still, director Robinson and star/producer/HST groupie Johnny Depp could have done better than this bland, one-note affair we are all stuck with.

Granted, Thompson may be a one-trick pony storyteller, living off of and trying vainly to repeat the success of his one great book, the iconic "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", and therefore not the best candidate for multiple filmic adaptations, but one would still think at least some of the author's once-acidic tongue-waggings would rub off in the movie version of The Rum Diary. Alas poor Virginia, tis not to be. Instead we are left with a surprisingly ordinary attempt at a Hunter S. Thompson origin myth, replete with a wasted, nowhere role for the usually much better Aaron Eckhart, the vapid baby blues of Amber Heard, much better in more genre specific roles (think Drive Angry and The Ward) and Depp's rather sad attempts at reliving old glories on the gonzo battlefield with the same old muttered car salesman tone and wide-eyed desperation.

Perhaps it is the fact that this early novel is nothing more than mere sub-Hemingway hero worship and wouldn't make for an interesting movie under anyone's care. Perhaps it is the aforementioned problem of Depp's once pitch-perfect HST impersonation wearing thin since his days in Terry Gilliam's appropriately gonzo adaptation of 1998, and subsequent semi-rebirth in Rango earlier this year. Perhaps it is that even the Dorian Gray-like Monsieur Depp, knocking on the door of fifty, cannot pull off playing a character meant to be in his early twenties. Perhaps it is just a tired cliche of a movie, and nothing more sinister than that. The real problem is that the going never gets weird, so no one need turn pro. [10/28/11]

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