Johnny Depp was good friends with legendary gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and has played variations on him twice – in Terry Gilliam’s 1998 “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and now in “The Rum Diary,” based on a semiautobiographical previously unpublished novel that Depp himself helped get into print in 1998.
Depp’s Paul Kemp – a stand-in for Thompson – is a boozy American newspaperman slumming in Puerto Rico in 1960 for the San Juan Star. Anti-American sentiment is running high; cutthroat US business interests are running rampant. Paul ends up an improbable crusader against those interests but not before gallivanting gonzo-style with a pair of newspaper buddies (well played by Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Rispoli) who make him seem almost sane by comparison.
Depp is disappointingly recessive here, as he often is when he’s playing characters who don’t have an antic streak. (See, or better yet, don’t see “The Tourist.”) One might have thought that his connection to Thompson would bring out some more vibrant colorations. Maybe Depp just doesn’t want to upstage his hero. Grade: B- (Rated R for language, brief drug use, and sexuality.)