Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Gonzo, Puerto Rico & rum - what's not to like?

The Rum Diary, which opened almost surprisingly at two Windsor theatres last weekend, was the first film in ages I attended at a Windsor cinema. And Cineplex Odeon Devonshire put it in one humongous screening room though there was a paltry crowd to enjoy it Saturday night. In any case this story from the beloved, belated and deceased former gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson is little known and long precedes his more famous literary works Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 (the former made into a movie in 1998 directed by Terry Gilliam). This is a semi-autobiographical work about Thompson, in his early 20s, a kind of down and out reporter who has left New York to work on a Puerto Rican newspaper. The book describes a sports paper. The movie depicts the San Juan Star, a general interest daily. It describes his escapades among the cast of misfits in the rundown newsroom of a news organization on its last legs, a kind of target by the locals for the evils of American imperialism. Johnny Depp stars as the Thomsonesque Paul Kemp, a reprise of his role in Fear and Loathing as Raoul Duke. He takes on the same character but the story takes place at the beginning of Thompson’s wild alcohol and drug-obsessed lifestyle, drinking his hotel room bar fridge dry on the newspaper’s expense account, natch. Like Fear and Loathing this is a laugh-out-loud comedy as Kemp, like Duke, finds himself in numerous bizarre situations with a couple of whacked-out fellow  staffers, Sala (Michael Rispoli) and Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi). There is indeed a central plot with Aaron Eckhart playing the greedy (what else?) land developer Sanderson. Puerto Rico was on the verge of mass tourism and Sanderson wants to be among the first to cash in, recruiting our hero to write positive reviews about his business exploits (in more ways than one). About the only thing Kemp agrees to is Sanderson’s nubile girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard). True to all Thompson literary themes good wins out over evil in an alcoholic and drug-induced haze including the character’s first experiments with LSD. What’s impressive about the film is its re-creation of 1960-era Puerto Rico, where the women’s fashions seem to be dead on and the numerous vintage cars made me, yes, check whether modern day Havana wasn’t a fill in for San Juan. Bruce Robinson (Withnail & I, 1987), whom Depp pulled out of a kind of retirement to make the film, shows he’s as proficient at the helm as ever. Catch the film while it’s still here.

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