Based on the debut novel by Hunter S. Thompson which initiated his long, distinguished and brilliantly unpredictable career, The Rum Diary
tells the increasingly unhinged story of itinerant journalist Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp). Tiring of the noise and madness of New York and the crushing conventions of late Eisenhower-era America, Kemp travels to the pristine island of Puerto Rico to write for a local newspaper, The San Juan Star
, run by downtrodden editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins). Adopting the rum-soaked life of the late 50s version of Hemmingway’s lost generation, Paul soon becomes increasingly obsessed with Chenault (Amber Heard), the wildly attractive Connecticut-born fiancée of Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a businessman involved in shady property development deals.
Actor-producer Johnny Depp pays homage to his friend Hunter S. Thompson through this sprightly adaptation of the novelist's semi-autobiographical novel. Depp plays Paul Kemp, the booze-sozzled journalist who takes centre stage in Bruce Robinson's period comedy. Out of desperation, the New Yorker takes a job with a San Juan newspaper in 1960, where he reports to the cynical Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) and shares a squalid flat with laid-back photographer Sala (The Sopranos'
Michael Rispoli) and the truly unhinged "crime and religion" reporter Moburg (a scene-stealing Giovanni Ribisi). The three Ugly Americans do their best to drain the island's rum supply until Kemp meets Aaron Eckhart's slick Sanderson, who recruits the writer to promote his real estate ventures, regardless as to the number of poverty-stricken Puerto Ricans his hotels will displace. Politically, Kemp leans left, but he needs the dough, so he accepts the offer, only to find the ultimate temptation in Sanderson's uninhibited fiancée, Chenault (the stunning Amber Heard). It's a tricky balancing act, but when the natives start getting restless, Kemp risks losing everything. If the conclusion feels anticlimactic, Robinson keeps the antic energy going through nerve-wracking car chases, balletic cock fights, and a hilarious acid excursion that recalls the hotel trip-out in Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
, to which Robinson's film serves as a less surrealistic cousin. If it isn't as certain to become a cult classic, like the director's equally inebriated Withnail and I
, Depp and company always remain true to Thompson's irascible spirit. --Kathleen C. Fennessy