It took 40 years for the Rum Diary to be published, nine for the film adap to get off the ground and another two for it to reach cinemas.
So the first question to ask about Johnny Depp’s long-gestating salute to Hunter S. Thompson is: is it worth the wait?
The answer is yes. For while Bruce Robinson’s (Withnail & I) film never reaches the manic heights of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, it still succeeds as a companion piece/prequel that pays tribute to the spirit of the godfather of Gonzo journalism.
Freely adapted from one of Thompson’s forays into quasi-autobiographical fiction, TRD casts Depp as Paul Kemp, a hack who travels to Puerto Rico in 1960 to take up a position on a newspaper. It doesn’t take him long to fall out with stressed editor Richard Jenkins and in with boozy photographer Michael Rispoli.
After one crazed night out, he finds himself in hock to Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a developer with one eye on exploiting the island and the other on his flirty fiancée (Amber Heard).
Robinson wrings plenty of chortles from Depp and Rispoli’s debauched antics, particularly in a scene where they sample “the most powerful drug in the history of narcotics”.
On the plot front he’s less sure-footed, Paul’s third-act attempt to turn the tables coming out of nowhere ahead of an abrupt downer ending. There’s little heat to Depp and Heard’s romantic imbroglio, while Eckhart is on bad-guy autopilot.
Yet any film with flame-spitting and a frog-puking voodoo priestess is surely worth a look, while Giovanni Ribisi steals the show as a blitzed reporter who’s clearly had one Camberwell Carrot too many.
Full of affection for the late Dr T, this droll if bitty frolic is destined to form a triple bill someday with Fear And Loathing and Where The Buffalo Roam.
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