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The Daily Tar Heel

Movie Review: The Rum Diary

Bruce Robinson probably penned “The Rum Diary” script listening to Tom Waits and staring at a Puerto Rican sunset. Hunter S. Thompson probably wrote the original novel sipping whiskey and staring into another dimension.

The film follows Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp), an alcoholic journalist newly hired to a failing Puerto Rican newspaper. Soon after befriending a rum aficionado (Michael Rispoli) and a sociopathic drug fiend named Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi), Paul finds subplots: He falls for the fiancée of a millionaire, who, by the way, tries bribing Paul for journalistic spin.

So busy pursuing these overlapping goals, Kemp and his compatriots never stop to just behave. These vivid characters tease viewers with idiosyncrasies which never get fully fleshed out. Moburg’s Nazism winds up nothing more than a footnote.

Fortunately, this cast delivers. A deft character actor, Rispoli understatedly turns the least sketchy role into the most impressionable one.

Depp and Ribisi follow in suit, playing monotonous straight man and strung-out cretin in delightfully original ways.

But neither they nor the beautiful cinematography can distract from poor writing. Artificial dialogue carries each scene to its often flat conclusion, culminating in an ending so fraught with loose ends that several title cards end up telling the rest of the story.

Had the film just moved aimlessly, it could have succeeded as a character piece — the character being ‘60s Puerto Rico. Instead, it reckons a surplus of aims, taking one woozy step in so many directions that it falls flat on its face.

Audiences are better off sipping whiskey while watching a sunset to the sounds of Tom Waits. That’s essentially what this film has amounted to, and you can’t bring whiskey into movie theaters.

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