Based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary
, follows itinerant journalist Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) on an alcohol-fueled journey across the pristine island of Puerto Rico. Adopting the rum-soaked life of the island, Paul soon becomes obsessed with Chenault (Amber Heard) the wildly attractive fiancée of Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), an American businessman involved in shady development deals. When Kemp is recruited by Sanderson to write favorably about his latest unsavory scheme, the journalist is presented with a choice: to use his words for the corrupt businessman’s financial benefit or use them to take him down.
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 center 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