In The Rum Diary, failed novelist Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) has come to Puerto Rico to write for The San Juan Star, a floundering newspaper whose offices are inhabited by a sea of miscreants, including cagey editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), frustrated photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli) and drug-addled reporter Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi). Kemp quickly grows jaded as he finds himself interviewing tourists at local bowling alleys rather than reporting on the poor living conditions — as Lotterman tells him “nobody wants to know what’s wrong with the place.”
A chance meeting with a shady investor (Aaron Eckhart) finds Kemp reluctantly drawn into a real estate scheme, which Kemp goes along with in order to get close to the gorgeous and captivating Chenault (Amber Heard). Things rarely turn out the way Kemp envisions, however, as the constant stream of rum he pours down his throat tends to result in some very bad (but often hilarious) decisions, including an epic car chase that leaves Kemp and Sala at the mercy of local law enforcement.
There are plenty of memorable sequences, and the eccentric cast of supporting characters are vividly created thanks to top-notch performances from everyone involved (Ribisi is especially enjoyable here), but as the story of a young writer trying to find his voice, it’s too bad that the film struggles to accomplish the same goal. Writer/director Bruce Robinson struggles to maintain a consistent tone, and while the drug-and-alcohol-fueled misadventures are fun to watch, they seem more like a string of unrelated incidents rather than anything resembling a narrative.
Depp once again perfectly embodies the late Hunter S. Thompson, and the revered journalist’s influence is evident in every slurred word and contorted facial expression. While it lacks the insanity and mayhem of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it’s a pleasant-enough romp that hits the mark more often than not, but fails to deliver a satisfying conclusion. By the end of The Rum Diary, Kemp has found purpose and meaning from his time in Puerto Rico — unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the audience.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10