By Gary Newman, Special to the Chronicle
Bruce Robinson's "The Rum Diary" takes a look at the story of an American journalist in 1960 who has failed as a novelist in America. The journalist, Paul Kemp, played by Johnny Depp, is based on the real-life journalist Hunter S. Thompson. In the movie Kemp goes to Puerto Rico to write for the San Juan Star, a newspaper on the downfall because of its complacent editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins). Kemp immediately teams up with staff photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli) who becomes his sidekick for the rest of the movie. Kemp's love interest is Chenualt (Amber Heard), the beautiful and sexy fiancée of the greedy entrepreneur Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart). Then throw in a drunken, drugged out Nazi in Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi).
Now that I have given you a rundown on the main characters and all the big names, I'll tell you it doesn't meet the expectations. The first red flag has to be that the movie did not make the box office chart in its first weekend. When a Johnny Depp movie does not make the charts there is something terribly wrong. I am glad the rest of America caught on before I did and did not waste a dime on this movie. Without the A-list actors starring in this movie, this C-list production -- and the C is generous -- would never have made it to theaters.
I am a firm believer in structure and this movie simply was lost in this category. It could not find the balance between Depp getting drunk and ending up in wacky situations, his obsession with a girl, his desire to go against the status quo, and his desire to have a story that matters. The movie just could not handle all these different plot points. Besides Kemp, the other characters did not have enough screen time or depth to have any connection to the character. Not to mention the horrible buildup of the relationship between Kemp and Chenault. Kemp is the hopeless romantic and Chenault is the woman who is being held back by her greedy and power hungry lover, and that was all I got.
Then there was the ending, which should have come long before it did. There were numerous times when I thought it was about to end and then something else dragged it out further. Then there was the actual ending: Kemp failing in Puerto Rico, Chenault leaving him to go back to America and then he sails off leaving behind his failed attempt at finding meaning in his life. But wait! There is the text that tells us the after story. Kemp goes back to America and becomes a revered journalist and marries Chenault. Are you kidding me?