After making millions as Capt. Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Johnny Depp was entitled to a vanity project: this chaotic, highly romanticized tale of an itinerant, principled but disheveled journalist, Paul Kemp (Depp), who travels to then-pristine Puerto Rico in 1960, during the latter years of the Eisenhower-era. Adopting the Hawaiian-print shirts and intoxicated lifestyle that evokes memories of Hemingway’s “The Lost Generation,” he goes to work for cigar-chomping Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), the cynical editor of a failing, English-language newspaper, “The San Juan Star.”
Kemp soon finds himself cohabiting and co-conspiring with a grizzled, world-weary photographer, Bob Sala (Michael Rispoli), and a zany, eccentric columnist named Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi) who introduces them to hallucinogenic drugs. When they’re not ingesting various, unspecified substances, they’re forming subversive opposition to the luxury hotel-building scheme hatched by a nefarious group of neo-colonialist real-estate developers, led by suave Hal Sanderson (Aaron Eckart), a corrupt entrepreneur who lives in a luxurious beach house, drives a red Corvette and cavorts with a sexy fiancé, Chenault (Amber Heard), whose dancing sizzles during a Carnival celebration on the nearby island of St. Thomas.
Dabbling in political prognostication, Kemp spews vitriol against Richard Nixon during TV debates with John F. Kennedy: “The Irishman will win,” he predicts.’ “But they won’t let him live.”
According to producers, Hunter S. Thompson became close with Depp during the filming of Terry Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (1998) and showed Depp the unpublished manuscript for “The Rum Diary” before committing suicide in 2005. Serving as his alter ego, Depp decided to make this film to honor Thompson’s gonzo legacy, leaving the episodic adaptation and directing chores to Bruce Robinson (“Withnail and I”), who elicits what might best be termed as a sloshy, ‘minimalist’ performance from Depp. Unfortunately, inebriation is usually not very amusing to watch.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Rum Diary” is a boozy, incoherent 4, appealing primarily to cultish devotees of legendary Hunter S. Thompson – of whom there are obviously far fewer than anticipated.