Our Score: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.
In 1960, writer Hunter S. Thompson went to Puerto Rico to cover sports for a local newspaper. While there he made friends with several writers of the major paper on the island, the San Juan Star. When the sports paper folded, Thompson returned to the states, where he became one of the most popular authors of his generation. Among his novels, written while he was in his 20s but not published until he was 60: “The Rum Diary.”
Paul Kemp (Depp) is a novelist looking for a job that pays him to write. So he answers an ad and soon finds himself doing horoscopes for the largest English language newspaper in Puerto Rico. At the paper he is introduced to some bizarre co-workers, including Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), the paper’s editor, and photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli). Like Sala, Kemp has a weakness for alcohol. Paul notes that his drinking level is “just a big high of social.” Which would explain why his hotel bill on average charges him for 93 bottles from the mini bar per week. “Am I to assume those are NOT complimentary,” Kemp asks when confronted with the cost. When Paul finds himself being recruited to help promote an upcoming real estate project, he must choose his words, and deeds, very carefully.
Skillfully acted but lacking in plot points, there’s a reason “The Rum Diary” wasn’t published for 30 years. The film has no less than three stories to follow and each one kind of peters out at the end, without a proper payoff to send the audience home satisfied. Depp, who was a long time friend of Thompson and portrayed him in “Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas,” manages to get under the skin of the great Gonzo journalist and give the audience a brief look at what made him tick. As Sala, Rispoli (who was funny as Bernie Mac’s former teammate in “Mr. 3000”) has a great physical comedy side that makes the performance. Sala loves his rum and Puerto Rico has plenty of it. Jenkins is his usual steady self while Ribisi gives a brave performance as the papers religion writer Moburg. A cross between Truman Capote and “Midnight Cowboy’s” Ratso Rizzo, Moburg is the kind of young man that attracts attention no matter what he’s doing. But if you get past his penchant for drinking 420 proof rum and his enjoyment for the recorded collection of the speech’s of Adolph Hitler, he proves to be someone to have around.
The film moves smoothly under Robinson’s direction, though, for what is being billed as a “crime drama,” there aren’t a lot of surprises. However, the inside look at Puerto Rico as JFK took office is pretty interesting. The cinematography is beautiful and I can see more than one movie goer saving his pennies for a trip to the island. Palm trees and blue waters will surely tempt viewers.