Kemp is a flailing writer that has fled for greener pastures and bluer waters in the American South...well sort of. Kemp has chosen Puerto Rico to be his Tokyo. What's more, despite not having published his last two novels, and having developed quite a reputation Stateside, our novelist turned journalist has been hired by Puerto Rico's premier newspaper in San Juan. His employer, the editor-in-chief is Lotterman (Richard Jenkins). Lotterman is inexplicably hilarious with a certain je ne sais quoi quality. Perhaps it is his flaring temper or his ability to go from stoic to hot-headed in 0.4 seconds.
Before long, Kemp is commissioned to make Puerto Rico, its casinos, its bowling alleys, and its tourism in general sound like a dream world. At first the fumbling journalist is reluctant to compose misbegotten drivel just for a paycheck, no matter how meager that paycheck may be. He may be a raving alcoholic but he clearly has principles. His attitude starts adjusting after a brief encounter with a woman that he calls a mermaid.
Chenault (pronounces Chanel as in the perfume and played brilliantly by Amber Heard) looks an awful lot like a thinner, sexier Scarlett Johansson. When she meets the intoxicated (literally and figuratively) middle-aged journalist, he is swiftly smitten. Chenault loves to sunbath and to go for midnight swims in her natural state, that is to say naked! Unfortunately for Kemp, she is sexually active (and I do mean active) with the richest man on the island, land developer Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart). Their relationship does not deter our lover boy as he will have her at any cost (as seen later in the film). This is a major divergence from Thompson's novel in which Chenault is with a ne'er do well journalist that is a vicious, jealous madman.
In the meantime, Kemp becomes involved in a shady business arrangement with Sanderson designed to elevate his landholdings in both quantity and value. Both he and Chenault seem to have sexual tension between one another that is bad both for business and for Kemp's fledgling career. Understanding that his expose's of Puerto Rico's criminal and penurious underbelly will cause his newspaper to lose its advertising revenue, he changes his tune.
During his stay on the steamy island, Kemp lives with two coworkers, one of whom is a rum-slobbering Nazi that listens to Hitler's speeches. On a sidenote, what would a Johnny Depp film be without some measure of rabid anti-Semitism? Best of all, having read The Rum Diary, I am positive those epithets do not belong in a film adaptation of this novel. His apartment is ramshackle as ramshackle does. They have a television but it belongs to their neighbor who is deaf. Now that's comedy!
Honestly, The Rum Diary is in one word stupid. In two words stupid and idiotic. In three words Johnny Depp cannot act worth a penny, let alone a nickel (lost count sorry folks). To steal from Titanic, Amber Heard shines like a new penny. This film turned out to be a terrific choice for her (Heard's record of choosing the right movies is checkered at best). Without costumes and pirouettes Depp is like an elderly man without his viagra, he just can't keep it up. The Rum Diary had some early Oscar buzz surrounding it...must have been manufactured by the special effects department because the bees have disappeared people. The Rum Diary is more disgraceful than debonair and clumsy that courageous. The film disgraces Thompson's novel.
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