DVD Release Date: February 14, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: October 28, 2011
Rating: R (for language, brief drug use and sexuality)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 120 min.
Director: Bruce Robinson
Actors: Johnny Depp, Giovanni Robisi, Michael Rispoli, Richard Jenkins, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard

There are movies that entertain and demand little of their audience. There are movies that reward careful study, and thoughtful consideration. There are stories that are propulsive, taking viewers on a ride that leaves them asking questions about the story later after further reflection. Then there are films that move slowly, inviting close engagement with the unfolding story every step along the way.

The Rum Diary falls into another category. It moves, but not quickly, and while it hints at deeper themes of political and corporate corruption, it never invites deeper analysis of its story. Its protagonist is a writer, but the story is less about him than what happens around him. None of it is particularly interesting or revelatory. When it’s over, one can’t help but wonder who the intended audience is, and why the project was made.

One answer to the latter question isn’t too hard to ascertain, although it raises questions of its own: Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), who stars in the film as Paul Kemp, is a fan of the late writer Hunter S. Thompson. Depp found the Rum Diary manuscript in a drawer in Thompson’s home in the late 1990s, around the time he was playing Thompson in director Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of the writer’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He encouraged Thompson to publish the dusty novel, which the author began writing in the early 1960s, and moved forward with a film version directed by Bruce Robinson, whose previous film (Jennifer Eight) came out in 1992.

In Rum Diary, Kemp travels to Puerto Rico to take a job with the island’s newspaper and find his “voice” as a writer. A cynical photographer, Sala (Michael Rispoli, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3), warns the newbie that he was the only applicant for the position. Their boss, Lotterman (Richard Jenkins, Friends with Benefits), is struggling to keep the operation afloat and has little time to hear about Kemp’s muckraking ambitions. He’s much more interested in appeasing the paper’s financial backers and advertisers. One island visitor looking for positive press is Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart, Battle: Los Angeles), an American entrepreneur who wants to convert a nearby island used for military drills into a resort. His beautiful girlfriend. Chenault (Amber Heard, Drive Angry), provides the hook Sanderson needs to reel in Kemp and get the newspaper on his side.