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Paradise’s lamer side

OUT NOW! THE RUM DIARY spends too much time enjoying the sun and not enough on gritty gonzo journalism.

Based on an imperfect early novel by Hunter S. Thompson, the decision to film The Rum Diary seems to have been based largely on Johnny Depp’s fascination with this fictive version of an early episode in Thompson’s life.

Alter-ego journalist Paul Kemp (Depp) comes to Puerto Rico in the early 1960s to work for the main English-language paper. Said paper is on its last legs. Kemp is assigned to horoscopes. Since his drinking (“upper end of social”) is already getting in the way of serious work, Kemp fits right in with the motley crew of baggy-shirted photographers and weirdo fellow hacks (Rispoli and a classically stoned Ribisi). Then he meets sweet-faced Chenault (Heard) and her corrupt construction baron boyfriend (Eckhart), who is bent on exploiting both Amber and the island for their physical charms. This is the point, supposedly, at which anger kicks in and conscience rouses itself from the rum bottle.

Depp revisits the skills honed in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a mimic of Thompson’s strange speech patterns, intimating shrewdness behind the farce. But in terms of the kind of anger that marked the writer’s subsequent embrace of gritty gonzo journalism, Depp and the movie spend too much time enjoying themselves, and the scenery, for the realisation of wrath to appear plausible.

The Rum Diary | Directed by Bruce Robinson (USA 2011) with Johnny Depp, Giovanni Ribisi, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard, Michael Rispoli. Starts August 2