Written and directed by Bruce Robinson, The Rum Diary adapts a novel Hunter S. Thompson began in the early '60s and published, under Johnny Depp's auspices, more than three decades later. A first-person account of the drinking life on a tropical isle in the late 1950s, its protagonists are mainly employees of an undercapitalized English-language daily in San Juan. The party gets underway with Thompson's alter ego Kemp (played by a disconcertingly unengaged Depp) coming to consciousness, having raped the minibar in a dark, trashed hotel room overlooking a glorious beach, his bleary disorientation accentuated by the small plane that flies by with the banner "Puerto Rico Welcomes Union Carbide." Ugly Americans infest the bowling alley; right-wing capitalists plan vulgar resorts on the unspoiled army testing range at Vieques. Newly arrived from New York, Kemp finds a never-exactly-explained riot outside the offices of the San Juan Star and a lunatic editor within (Richard Jenkins). Soon his lowlife colleagues initiate him into a round of bar-hopping and cockfighting that results in an epic trip to the slammer. Kemp is then recruited to write a promotional brochure by a smooth American ex-journalist (Aaron Eckhart), who is shacked up with the captivating Connecticut wild child Chenault (Amber Heard). As in Thompson's readable but hardly revelatory novel, the narrative reaches its climax during Carnival on St. Thomas with Kemp fallen off the wagon. Unfortunately the movie soldiers on, and Robinson never quite gets the giddy velocity of a what-the-fuck bender.
Depp helped Thompson publish the novel; now he stars in it.
Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., Oct. 28. Rated R. 120 minutes.