“The book is hopeless,” Hunter S. Thompson wrote about his semi-autobiographical novel The Rum Diary, which went unpublished until 1998. Even so, this zesty adaptation, with Hunter protege Johnny Depp as journalist Paul Kemp, is the best Thompson adaptation to hit the screen.
Kemp, a hard-drinking but idealistic newspaperman, lands at a failing San Juan daily, surrounded by a cynical editor, greedy capitalists bent on exploiting Puerto Rico’s riches, eccentric boozy colleagues, and an unattainable beauty. The picaresque plot is secondary to the impeccable design and cinematography, ebullient acting, and the script, which crackles with Thompsonian wit.
Most of the energy is expended in the first hour, after which the drinking, hallucinogens, and cock fights become repetitive, and Depp’s initially impressive Thompson imitation recedes. But there’s enough to savor here that it hardly matters. The movie captures Thompson’s spirit so well that you have the sense he'd approve. --Pamela Zoslov