Jack Sparrow has flown from the nest and landed in a bottle of rum. The opening scene says it all: Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) is stumbling across his hotel room with bloodshot eyes, a bloodied face and a pill-popping habit that would shame Dr. House.
It’s 1970, and New York journalist Kemp has come to Puerto Rico to work for the San Juan Star, whose collapse is imminent. He quickly subscribes to an alcoholic world, his first day at work shaded by his hangover-hiding sunglasses. No matter, though, since his job is a joke; he’s forced to cover local bowling alley championships. Kemp languishes, itching to write on the utter poverty of the neighborhood away from the tourist areas — but his editor quickly dispels that hope, mandating that Kemp write only about the winners, those who are achieving the American Dream (the same dream Kemp refers to as a “piss puddle of greed”). In comes Hal Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), the charismatic, sketchy, fabulously wealthy businessman whose lavish lifestyle makes Kemp both envious and furious. Sanderson courts Kemp with gifts and glamour, begging him to write favorably of Sanderson’s plan to (unethically) industrialize an untamed island. What Sanderson doesn’t realize is that the only gift Kemp really wants is Sanderson’s fiancée, the sensual Chenault (Amber Heard).
The Rum Diary is packed with smart sexual innuendos and ridiculous situations; voodoo, hallucinogenic drugs, a turtle with a bejeweled shell and a constantly intoxicated Nazi lover named Moburg (brilliantly played by Giovanni Ribisi) make for a ’70s Hangover. But despite his bad decisions with illegal substances, Kemp remains bent on his dream to publish one last important story before the Star goes under— a problem which, quite frankly, feels quite timely.