Peter Bart on the Failure of Johnny Depp’s ‘Passion Project’

For his latest Variety missive, current VP and editorial director Peter Bart zeroes in on the box office failure of Johnny Depp’s The Rum Diary. Released over the Halloween weekend, this Hunter S. Thompson derived entertainment has grossed just $12.5 million domestically and a paltry four million and change internationally.

Bart says that it was not for a lack of PR. He notes that although Depp appeared “marginally comatose” during a special one-hour interview with Larry King, the actor was otherwise enthusiastically willing to subject himself to the nightmarish press junket experience. However, according to Bart, there are a couple of bigger problems at work here:

The boozy Thompson was always pissed off, and that’s the paradox of Depp’s biopic. Depp venerated Thompson but was not the actor to play him. In the film, Depp seems pliant, almost benign–a good soul responding to the madness surrounding him.

If it’s difficult to figure out what the character (or the movie) is all about, that’s because it’s based on a novel that Thompson kept on rewriting for 40 years, never figuring out his “voice,” as he says in the movie.

This is technically the third time Depp has played Thompson, and it says something that the most successful turn was when he did it as an animated chameleon. Perhaps for a one-day, fourth final Gonzo flick, Depp can team with Ralph Bakshi. Now that could be fearsome.