It seems like Johnny Depp can't get enough of the works of Hunter S. Thompson, who had been credited for and popularized the style of Gonzo journalism which makes no qualms about being objective, and tells a story with the reporter put into a first-person narrative. Thompson's novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas had been adopted for the big screen and had starred Depp, and now Depp turns producer in bringing yet another Thompson novel for the cinema, which is not hard to tell why the character of Paul Kemp had appealed to him.
Inspired by Thompson's real stint which found him in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1960 to write for a newspaper that's facing the worst of times, the story deals with a series of events from the minute Kemp lands in the country and throughout his stay, getting in touch with the various characters from within the newsroom, such as editor Edward Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli) and Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi) the perpetual drunk still on the newspaper's payroll, to activities outside in the pristine beaches of San Juan, with shady businessman Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) and his gorgeous girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard), which Kemp takes a liking for.
For starters, his editor dislikes Kemp's drinking problem, a problem that seems to perpetuate itself amongst all of Kemp's newsroom friends, since the editor is of the advice that the drink will ruin one's career, starting Kemp off with the horoscopes section of the paper. For Kemp, being in the island is but an escape while waiting to write that great American novel he aspires to, but distraction comes in the form of Chenault, and especially when Sanderson ropes Kemp in on a shady deal that requires extreme discretion because it's frankly, thinking out of the box in order to make an obscene amount of money through unscrupulous tactics.
The deal is for Kemp to be in the grouping, made up of corrupt politicians, ex military men and brokers, and to churn out articles in their favour to boost the real estate chances that they had set their sights on, and being in the loop of things exposed a lot of shenanigans behind the scenes that Kemp is clearly uncomfortable with, if not for opportunities to be close to Chenault. And in between he had to content with the lack of water, trying hard to stay sober, and dealing with the plenty of rum and drugs that come their way.
And speaking of which the vices here happen to serve as the highlights of this rather deadpan film, if not for the moments of drunkenness and perpetual high no thanks from the overt consumption of recreational drugs that lift the narrative and its characters into the heights of fun-filled insanity. In some ways, like Kemp, the narrative fumbles and sprawls its way through like a tourist taking pictures of everything just because he can and not because he finds beauty in the subjects, and so The Rum Diary has the same effect of trying to cover everything, yet almost always abandoning things halfway and finding no real meaning other than to have everyone in a drunken state of anxiousness during its climax.
It's a good story nonetheless, with cast members really chewing up their roles in extremely carefree fashion, but Bruce Robinson, out of the game for some time, clearly found it a struggle to try and piece things together tightly and deliver something that's truly engaging. Strictly for Johnny Depp fans.