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"Rum Diary" - {Blu-ray}
Edward McNulty
Studio: Sony
Release Date:
February 14, 2012
Special Features:

See Below


Director/writer Bruce Robinson adaptation of Hunter S. Thompsonís semi-autobiographical novel starts out strong, but seems to fizzle out at the end, the actual conclusion being spelled out in one of those what happened later summaries scrolling up the screen. From what I have read Johnny Depp, who plays Thompsonís stand-in, journalist Paul Kemp, was a close friend of the novelist. He discovered the unfinished manuscript while visiting him at his Colorado home years ago, but it wasnít until the early 90s that Hunter finished and published the work. ***

The story begins with Kemp trying to wake up in his trashed San Juan hotel room after a night of boozing. When he shows up at the San Juan Starís office where he is applying for a job, the jaded editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) knows full well that Kempís sunglasses are intended to cover up his red eyes. Knowing also that young Kempís resume is heavily inflated, he asks about his drinking. The reply is also b.s, that itís at "the upper end of social." Lotterman accepts him anyway in the belief that the would-be novelist writes well enough so that he might draw some new readers and thus prevent the newspaper from folding. ***

Assigned to interview American tourists at bowling alleys, Kemp soon becomes aware of the gulf between the impoverished native Puerto Ricans and the American tourists who boast that they never leave their hotel, casino or beach. Because he consumes so many of the small but costly liquor bottles at the hotel, Lotterman is forced to end his hotel stay. Kemp then accepts the offer of his fellow reporter Sala (Michael Rispoli) to rent a room at his apartment. There is even a television set, the pudgy reporter promises. Turns out that the TV set is in the living room of their neighbors, and that they must use binoculars to see it through the open windows. Later as they watch Nixon speak, we see Kempís (and thus Hunterís) anti-establishment bent come to the fore, the reporter casting aspersions onto the politician and predicting that he would not win the Presidency. ***

The apartment has also two other occupantsóa fighting rooster and Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi), a grubby reporter covering crime and religion, Kemp had seen him being verbally assaulted by the angry Lotterman earlier at the office when the reporter made one of his apparently rare appearances. Moburg, who enjoys listening to old records of Hitlerís speeches, is spaced out by both the awful hooch that he makes with an a converted room air conditioner, and also with various drugs. ***

Kemp is not in town very long before he is approached by the slick talking entrepreneur Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart). The latter is gathering a team of investors to acquire an uninhabited island currently used for gunnery practice by the Navy. He wants to build a resort hotel there, the first of several. He invites Kemp to join him as the writer, who through articles and brochures can make the project appealing to the public. Kemp is drawn in, partly for the money, but also because of Sandersonís beautiful girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard). However, as he observes the corrupt businessman mistreating the native Puerto Ricans, Kemp begins to come to himself. (Late one night Sandersonís mistreatment almost leads to Kemp and Sala being beaten up by a group of angry peasants.) Kemp tries to get his boss interested in an article decrying the mistreatment of Puerto Ricans by businessmen like Sanderson, who see them only as a source for cheap labor at their luxury establishments. In this respect I was reminded of Peter Weirís The Year of Living Dangerously in which the Eurasian photographer Billy Kwan challenges the ambitious journalist Guy Hamilton to write about the poor people of Jakarta. Both Lotterman and Hamilton decline, claiming that it would do no good. The editor wants Kemp to write positive stories, not negative ones, stories that will draw readers to the newspaper and tourists to the island. Kemp and Sala, and even Moburg, join forces to tell the story anyway, and so we are led to expect a big, dramatic showdown, but this does not happen. It might be that this is more realistic than the usual Hollywood story arcóor my companion at the screening observed, it could be that the filmmakers ran out of ideas or money. ***

The excessive drinking and casual drug use of the characters make what could have been a social justice film dubious viewing for some viewers. The filmmakers seem to approve of the characters' boozing lifestyle, leading us to regard their antics as smart and funny. (Tell that to Whitney Houston.) (The audience at the screening I attended obviously apparently contained many Hunter Thompson fans, judging by their frequent laughter and comments.) Thompson did go on to write of his opposition to fat cats taking advantage of the powerless, but how much more effective might he have been had he become free of drug and alcohol influence? ***

Besides the Peter Weir film mentioned earlier I also thought of Oliver Stoneís journalist Peter Boyle in Salvador. Well played by James Woods, Boyle also is a neíer do well hampered by his excessive drinking until he goes to El Salvador and is aroused by the governmentís brutal mistreatment of the peasants. Like Kemp, he finds his voice as a writer, emerging as a person with a conscience who becomes upset enough by the mistreatment of the natives that he wants to use his writing skill to call public attention to their plight. But again, I ask, how much more effective might he have been had he not spent so much time and energy in self-indulgences? Okay, enough moralizing.

Special Features:

Two behind-the-scenes featurettes: - A Voice Made of Ink and Rage: Inside The Rum Diary

The Rum Diary Back-Story

Final Words:

Despite my qualms, this is a highly entertaining film that even raises some questions about the effect of American's misuse of native labor when they set up resorts and businesses abroad, questions that as Apple has learned recently in regard to conditions in its Chinese factories, Americans are concerned about.***


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