The Rum Diary

For those unfamiliar with Hunter S. Thompson’s work (as I am), you may not recognize that this movie is based on his book of the same title, first published in 1998. Hunter S. Thompson is the same author who gave us the novel for which the film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was based on.

The Rum Diary follows Paul Kemp (played by Johnny Depp), a failed novelist turn journalist, who finds himself at a critical turning point in his life. Having written two and a half novels that were never published, he was having trouble finding his voice, in that he needed to find a way to “write like him” as Paul put it himself. So he decides to do some freelance writing for a small publication located in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1960.

The movie opens with Kemp waking up in a hotel, and you can immediately, and clearly, see that he partakes in certain pleasures of life. After reporting to work at San Juan Star, Kemp meets Sala (played by Michael Rispoli), the photographer for the Star who quickly becomes his cohort. The editor-in-chief of the San Juan Star, Lotterman (played by Richard Jenkins) indicates to Kemp that the publication is only a few months away from being closed down, and that there really isn’t much to look forward to. He assigns Kemp to do some fluff pieces and the horoscope section of the paper.

Kemp is not content with this as he is looking at this experience as a way to put his career back on track. Over the next few days, during his adventures with Sala, he comes across a few different story ideas that are immediately shot down by Lotterman, as they emphasize the things that are wrong with San Juan, and Lotterman feels that the focus should be on the good things (like bowling alleys).

During one of his nights of boozing, he meets Chenault (played by Amber Heard). She’s aloof, mysterious, and of course… Kemp falls immediately in love with her. She just happens to be the girlfriend of Sanderson (played by Aaron Eckhart). Sanderson immediately recognizes the talents that Kemp has and begins recruiting him for a real estate scam. The idea is to get a foothold and build a new hotel on a private island that is used for United States military testing, but will soon be relinquished from that purpose. Sanderson and a group of investors want Kemp to put a brilliant positive spin on the hotel investment so that the public opinion, and that of those in a position to block the development, is a positive one.

Things begin to unravel as Kemp and Sala’s shenanigans keep getting them into trouble, culminating in a heated night where Kemp, Sala, Chenault and Sanderson end up at a bar during the St. Thomas Carnival.

The Rum Diary was highly entertaining with a great supporting cast. Giovani Ribisi provides an excellent distraction from some of the more serious events of the movie as he appears every now and then as Moburg, another reporter for the San Juan Star. The movie played like a great alcohol-induced, drug-fueled adventures of a journalist in the 1960s. Definitely some quirky moments, and you will find yourself laughing at many of Kemp and Sala’s exploits.

My only gripe with the movie is how it ended. The build up to Kemp printing the story and putting it out there leaves you wanting more. While I don’t think the film will reach the same cult-status that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas will, it is definitely entertaining (all the way until the end). It is a good nod to Thompson and fans of his books and movie adaptations are sure to enjoy.

3 stars out of 5.