In The Rum Diary, a young journalist named Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp), based on the novel’s writer Hunter S. Thompson, checks out of the New York City rat race to find his voice in Puerto Rico in the 1960s and finds himself entangled in a real estate shark’s scheme to turn the island into a cosmopolitan tourist trap.
While Kemp never finds his voice at the struggling English language paper in San Juan, he manages to find a rag tag group of misfits with whom to share his drunken misadventures. Kemp is paired with crackpot photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli) and befriends Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi), a coworker who has partaken in so many psychoactive substances that he is beyond repair.
He also finds Chenault (Amber Heard), the fiancée of real estate magnate Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart). Sanderson recognizes Kemp’s talent, despite his aimlessness and penchant for rum, and hires him to write puff pieces about his investment plans, enticing him with cash and keys to his Corvette. The only thing that entices Kemp, though, is Chenault.
The two gradually fall in love but, over time, Kemp remembers that he is a journalist and that Sanderson’s greed must be exposed. His buddies Sala and Moburg attempt to support him in his act of social consciousness, but the three are too bumbling and unconscious from booze to pull through.
Depp plays Kemp, an affable drunk who means well but is too directionless to put his good intentions in motion, with cool restraint and — dare I say it — moderation. The breakout performance, though, is Heard’s turn as Chenault, a free spirit who – even in the island paradise – seems trapped. While Chenault could have become a two dimensional femme fatale archetype, one can sense the very human yearning to escape and find happiness beneath the seemingly perfect and plastic exterior.
Will the details of this film be burned into your memory? Probably not. But you might remember moments, like the scheme to raise money to achieve journalistic greatness by a cockfight, like you remember that time when you [fill in the blank] at spring break in college. You were too drunk to recall the entire wild ride, but you know it was a good time.
Watch the trailer below:
The Rum Diary opens today nationwide.