Film Reviews: The Rum Diary, Footloose, The Thing, The Big Year, The Skin I Live In, Fireflies in the Garden, Texas Killing Fields, Trespass, The Father of Invention

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The Rum Diary: Film Review

12:01 AM PDT 10/14/2011 by Todd McCarthy
Johnny Depp

The Bottom Line: A diverting but uncompelling look at Hunter Thompson’s coming-of-age in Puerto Rico 50 years ago, courtesy of Johnny Depp.

Opens: Friday, Oct. 28 (FilmDistrict)

Cast: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi, Amaury Nolasco

Director-screenwriter: Bruce Robinson

Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli and Amber Heard star in director-screenwriter Bruce Robinson’s big-screen adaptation of the novel.

Given that it’s been on the shelf for two years and never popped up on the festival circuit, the whiff of trouble has hung over The Rum Diary for some time, so there is relief in discovering that the film is not so bad after all. Robinson wrote and directed one of the most memorable entries in the annals of alcoholic cinema, Withnail & I, and a certain affinity can be felt. But what’s sorely missing here is the raffishness and rudeness of the 1987 English film, as well as some concomitant spark in Depp’s performance that would hint at the wild man, and talent, to come.

PHOTOS: Stills From ‘The Rum Diary’

Thompson wrote The Rum Diary, his second attempt at a novel, in the early 1960s, after having spent a year or so trying, without much success, to be a newspaper reporter in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Depp, so the story goes, found the unpublished manuscript in the writer’s Colorado home sometime in the 1990s, urged him to finally publish it and started plotting a film version. Heavily autobiographical, the book dwells on the depredations of newsmen in a world that today is nostalgically regarded as both seedy and glamorous.

PHOTOS: Johnny Depp’s Most Memorable Career Moments

So youthful does Depp continue to look that it never seems odd that he’s playing a journalist at the beginning of his career. Unlike Thompson himself, who was barely past 20 at the time of his Caribbean sojourn, his fictional alter ego Paul Kemp readily finds a position with the ragtag ragThe San Juan Star, where high alcoholic intake is a job requirement; asked about his drinking habits, Kemp replies, “I suppose at the upper end of social,” which is good enough for bedraggled editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins).

Taken under wing by 40ish staff photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli), an engagingly mangy sort who by now seems too acclimated to the tropics to ever leave, Kemp tries to behave himself, even after meeting the bewitchingly sexy Chenault (Amber Heard), the flirty fiancee of Yank entrepreneur Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart). Very smoothly, the businessman lures the susceptible scribe into his web, with the covert intent that favorable coverage in the Star will help him and fat cat government-connected developers pull off a real estate scam giving them exclusive building rights in a privileged portion of paradise.

PHOTOS: Inside ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’

Kemp is alert enough to pick up the warning signs and even goes on the wagon for a while to regain his balance. But Sanderson gains the upper hand by bailing him out of jail and the myriad benefits of going along, including cash, a gratis red Corvette, deluxe vacation destinations and, decisively, the continued presence of Chenault, prove too much. The story thus emerges as a contest between the seductions of corruption and summoning the strength to do the right thing. Given the source, it’s not at all surprising that the path to moral clarity is provided by a raving lunatic, Moberg (an excellent Giovanni Ribisi), a one-time Star staffer too far gone on booze and drugs to function but whose reckless advance through the doors of perception positions him as a precocious forerunner of the counterculture to come.

VIDEO: ‘The Rum Diary’ Trailer: Johnny Depp Drinks His Way Through Puerto Rico

Despite this link between accepted/current and illicit/future forms of mood enhancement, as well as the “bad influence” theme reminiscent of WithnailThe Rum Diary remains a relatively mild diversion, not at all unpleasant but neither compelling nor convulsive. This stems in significant measure from the diffident nature of Depp’s character; hiding behind dark shades much of the time and affecting a hipster stance while remaining relatively cautious and noncommittal, Kemp doesn’t inspire strong engagement. Strangely enough, there’s a dose of Jack Sparrow in the characterization, albeit without the weird makeup and accoutrements, in that Kemp sort of bumbles into situations in a faux-innocent way, without particular focus or intent, and somehow muddles through. Without the allure and quirkiness that Depp provides, Kemp would be a pretty innocuous fellow, especially in comparison to some of those surrounding him.

A fine character actor heretofore without the benefit of a defining role, Rispoli excels as a garrulous lensman who’s probably talented but seems destined to a second-rate existence due to laziness and significant character defects. Although his phony wig is played for laughs, Jenkins’ frazzled editor might profitably have been more pitched toward outright comedy to provide the film with more tonal variety.

Conceptually, Chenault is a stock fantasy character, a teasingly unavailable object of desire designed to mesmerize. Many a pretty young actress could have filled this requirement, but Heard charges the standard-issue role with moments of something extra, a fleeting sense of abandon, unscripted wildness, inchoate yearning that couldn’t have been planned but emerged in a fortuitous fusion of glance, turn of the head, youthful glow, lighting and camera angle. Stunningly beautiful, Heard creates tiny heartbreaks for this girl who is both free and trapped, one of nature’s elite and yet possibly doomed.

As very few American films have been shot there, locations representing San Juan and environs a half-century ago are suitably fresh and evocative. The eclectic soundtrack also contributes to the smartly nostalgic feel.

Opens: Oct. 28 (Film District)
Production: GK Films, Infinitum Nihil, Film Engine
Cast: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi, Amaury Nolasco, Marshall Bell, Bill Smitrovich
Director: Bruce Robinson
Screenwriter: Bruce Robinson, based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson
Producers: Johnny Depp, Christi Dembrowski, Anthony Rhulen, Robert Kravis, Graham King
Executive producers: Patrick McCormick, Tim Headington
Director of photography: Dariusz Wolski
Production designer: Chris Seagers
Costume designer: Colleen Atwood
Editor: Carol Littleton
R rating, 120 minutes

OUR EDITOR RECOMMENDS

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New Movie Reviews: ‘Footloose,’ ‘The Big Year,’ ‘The Thing’ Hitting Theaters

10:43 PM PDT 10/13/2011 by Paula Zulian
Footloose
K.C. Bailey/Paramount Pictures.

What do THR’s critics have to say about the new films opening Friday?

After 27 years, the 1984 hit movieFootloose got its remake, this time starring Julianne Hough as Ariel Moore, the preacher’s daughter, and newcomer Kenny Wormald as Ren McCormack, the former Kevin Bacon role. The cast also includes Dennis Quaid, Andie MacDowell, Miles Teller and Ray McKinnon in the director Craig Brewer’s redo.

Meanwhile, Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Anjelica Huston star in the comedy The Big Year, directed by David Frankel.

Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen combines plenty of blood ‘n’ guts with pared-down dramatics in the sci-fi reboot The Thing, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton.

Antonio Banderas stars as a mad scientist/plastic surgeon in Spanish two-time Oscar-winning director Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In.

VIDEO: ‘Footloose’: How Does the New Trailer Compare to the 1984 Original?

Meanwhile, Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman star in Joel Schumacher‘s hostage drama Trespass.

And the long-waited 2008 Fireflies in the Garden, starring Ryan Reynolds and Julia Roberts, gets its release in the U.S.

Read what The Hollywood Reporter‘s critics have to say about these films and others opening Friday, and see how they’re expected to perform at the box office.

Footloose
Dennis Quaid, Julianne Hough and Kenny Wormald star in a by-the-numbers remake of the ’80s-era musical drama.
Click here to read Todd McCarthy’s review.

The Big Year
This film may not do for birds what director David Frankel’s last film, Marley & Me, did for dogs, but there’s a similar current of warmth and appreciation for the effect of animals on people to be felt, writes Todd McCarthy.
Click here to read Todd McCarthy’s review.

VIDEO: ‘The Thing’ Trailer Hits With Mary Elizabeth Winstead

The Thing
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton, this reboot of two famous sci-fi thrillers falls short of its predecessors, writes THR’s Todd McCarthy.
Click here to read Todd McCarth’s review.

The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito)
Antonio Banderas stars as a mad scientist/plastic surgeon in the Spanish director’s latest exploration of identity, anxiety and betrayal, writes Kirk Honeycutt.
Click here to read Kirk Honeycutt’s review.

Fireflies in the Garden
Ryan Reynolds and Julia Roberts stars in the first-time writer-director Dennis Lee’s family drama movie.
Click here to read Kirk Honeycutt’s review.

VIDEO: Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black Star in ‘The Big Year’ Trailer

Texas Killing Fields
Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chloë Grace Moretz and Jessica Chastain star in a cop-thriller from Ami Canaan Mann, making her second film.
Click here to read Neil Young’s review.

Trespass
Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman star in Joel Schumacher’s hostage drama.
Click here to read John DeFore’s review.

VIDEO: Pedro Almodovar on ‘The Skin I Live In’ — and What It’s Like to Live in His Skin

Father of Invention
Kevin Spacey stars in “Father of Invention,” a comedy about a father trying to reconquer his estranged daughter’s love, Camilla Belle and Heather Graham co-stars.
Click here to read Kirk Honeycutt’s review.

Also opening this weekend are Chalet Girl, Khushiyaan, Labios Rojos, My Friend Pinto and OKA!

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with passion & gratitude — jennifer

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