Imagine this: A movie featuring Johnny Depp playing Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson drinking himself into oblivion while working at a dying newspaper full of misfits, losers and has-beens in Puerto Rico.
Sounds fun, right?
In this film image released by Film District, Amber Heard, left, and Johnny Depp are shown in a scene from “The Rum Diary.”
Now, if "The Rum Diary" - inspired by the Thompson novel written in the '60s but not published until 1998 - was just another contemporary mainstream film flinging crap at its disaffected audience, it wouldn't be worthy of a review. But the project promised more and that's a problem.
When Johnny Depp put himself in Thompson's shoes again, it couldn't help but bring to mind "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," an acid trip of a film that resonated not only with '90s stoners and slackers, but with anyone searching for transcendence through the bizarre.
Anyway, big shoes to fill.
The poster, featuring a still boyish-looking Johnny Depp in boxers surrounded by broken booze bottles on the floor in a trashed hotel room, didn't do anything to discourage this comparison.
Well, you can imagine my shock when the film not only wasn't inspired, it was dreadfully dull - the worst crime.
Depp as Kemp, the Thompson stand-in, is supposed to be the new talent at "The San Juan Star," a newspaper that is struggling to survive. He is quickly introduced to Sala (Michael Rispoli), who mocks any hope for the paper and is involved in cockfighting on the side to pull in extra cash. The two find themselves in a series of bad situations, including getting tangled up in a scheme hatched by a hot shot criminal, Sanderson (the always great Aaron Eckhart), to introduce commercial business to an island untouched by the modern world.
Early on, Kemp falls in love with Sanderson's wife, Chenault, played by Amber Heard, and he's forced into several awkward moments in which he wishes to act on his lust but is thwarted by that pesky husband (sitcom stuff). She obviously wants in but trust me, you'll want out. The love interest turns out to be the biggest flop in the film - Heard "scorches the screen" indeed, as Peter Travers said, but she isn't given a chance to be anything but ravishing and she distracts the film from going anywhere. You'll find yourself staring at her, over and over again, in between watching Depp drink, over and over again, to no avail. No chemistry, no life.
How director Bruce Robinson could fashion a film about drinking that is so listless is beyond me. He truly must be clueless - evidenced further by the fact that the versatile Giovanni Ribisi is rendered too cartoonish to be effective and even the efforts of the talented Richard Jenkins fall flat.
The fatal flaw of the film, however, is that it never knows what it wants to be - a surrealist trip, a morality tale, a romance, a crime film or an investigative expose. It hints at all of these directions but doesn't pursue any of them successfully.
Some of my friends have suggested that the source material is equally aimless. Well, then, they should have found a different book on which to base a film.
Save your money and watch "Fear and Loathing" on Netflix.