Normally it's unthinkable to leave my seat once the trailers have ended and a movie is starting. This time, since the masking in the theater was off and I had to use the facilities anyway, I got up--not because it was an emergency; because I already knew how this film was going to open. I have read a couple Hunter S. Thompson novels (although not the particular one that this film is based on), and I saw Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas once, so I knew that it was more than likely that this picture would open with Johnny Depp stumbling around some half-dark room, having only barely slept off whatever substance he imbibed the night before.
I was right.
The Rum Diary is entirely predictable in its unpredictability. There are the usual brands of madness that Hunter S. Thompson conjures up in his work, such as legendary 470 proof rum illegally distilled in an apartment, a hermaphroditic voodoo priestess (priest?), a journalistic scandal, and cock fights. And also not surprising is the film's tendency to lead nowhere. Therefore, if a vacation to 1950's Puerto Rico that you don't actually get to go on is your speed, this movie delivers. But if, like me, you get antsy when all you're doing is watching one wacky adventure after another, you should stick to other adaptations.
Hunter S. Thompson provides such a rich, colorful well to draw from that allows the actors to say marvelous things like "liberals are just communists with an education," and "some days are just two sizes too small." With tongue placed firmly in cheek, captivating performers like Johnny Depp and Amber Heard flit about beautiful, delicious scenery, wearing period clothing, kissing each other, and sometimes breathing fire. Depp plays Kemp, who has taken a job at a newspaper as their only applicant. Since he is a charming drunk, he unknowingly pops up in the middle of strange situations where people usually find him intriguing. Smarmy Ed Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) is no exception, as he mistakenly thinks Kemp is just the man to write up manipulative stories that will pave the way for him to squeeze more money out of the Caribbean. Alas, Kemp is a champion for the common man, and proves it by giving Sanderson the run-around until he can't stand it anymore.
The movie goes in circles, allowing for plenty of laughs but never a coherent plot. It's much like Kemp's flirtation with the show-stoppingly gorgeous Chenault (Heard). They make love to each other with their eyes (even though Kemp won't take off his sunglasses) and come close to doing it, but never make it there. Amber Heard becomes another part of the beautiful scenery, never getting a chance to do anything but put on various pretty dresses and hypnotize everyone. Watching her and the movie itself feels more like an exercise in unwinding and letting the islands take you away without having to pack your bags.