Depp’s Gonzo Writer Fights Sleazy Developer; Cat Swagger: Film

Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp (as gonzo writer Hunter Thompson) in "The Rum Diary." The film is directed by Bruce Robinson. Photographer: Peter Mountain/FilmDistrict via Bloomberg

When we first see Johnny Depp in “The Rum Diary,” he’s hung over, bloodshot and clad only in boxer shorts hiked unfashionably high over his midsection. He’s stumbling around a motel room that looks like it’s been hit by a hurricane.

It’s a fitting introduction to Hunter Thompson, whose fictional persona Paul Kemp is zestfully portrayed by Depp in this story about a young writer finding his voice in 1960 Puerto Rico.

Loosely based on Thompson’s semi-autobiographical novel that went unpublished for almost four decades, “The Rum Diary” is a perfect reflection of the late gonzo journalist’s outsize personality -- erratic, charming, passionate, scattershot, decadent and, ultimately, hard to resist.

Written and directed by Bruce Robinson (screenwriter of “The Killing Fields”), the film is as raw as Thompson’s early works and sometimes borders on idolatry. However, Depp’s heartfelt performance, the quirky characters and the colorful Caribbean setting make it worthwhile.

Depp, who played an older version of Thompson in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” is twice the age of the character he portrays in “The Rum Diary.” Amazingly, though, the 48-year-old actor looks youthful enough to pull it off.

Sleazy Developer

Kemp moves to Puerto Rico to work at the San Juan Star, a financially troubled, ethically challenged newspaper run by a cynical, toupeed editor played by Richard Jenkins. (Thompson applied for a job at the Star but was rejected by editor William Kennedy, who later became a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.)

Kemp soon meets Chenault (Amber Heard), the luscious trophy wife of sleazy developer Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who tries to lure Kemp into flacking for his planned hotel/condo complex on a pristine nearby island.

Sanderson’s lush seaside home is a far cry from the squalid apartment Kemp shares with a disheveled photographer (Michael Rispoli) and occasionally, a druggie journalist (Giovanni Ribisi) who introduces them to LSD. The acid trip unleashes Kemp’s fury at the corruption surrounding him and inspires him to expose Sanderson rather than work for him.

After witnessing so much depravity and greed, Kemp vows to become a “voice made of ink and rage” -- as good a description of Thompson as you’ll ever hear.

“The Rum Diary,” from FilmDistrict, opens tomorrow across the U.S. Rating: ***

‘The Double’

The Cold War lives in “The Double,” a confounding espionage thriller about the hunt for a Soviet-era assassin who dispatches his victims with a garrote.

Richard Gere plays retired CIA agent Paul Shepherdson, who futilely tracked the legendary killer Cassius for decades. When the murder of a U.S. senator rekindles the search, Shepherdson teams with a young FBI agent (Topher Grace) who wrote his thesis on the Cassius case.

Shepherdson is convinced the assassin is dead, but the G-Man thinks otherwise. What follows is a head-spinning series of blind alleys, double-crosses, mistaken identities and other indecipherable plot twists.

The script is by Derek Haas and Michael Brandt (who also directs), the screenwriting team behind “3:10 to Yuma” and “Wanted.” Their attempt to revive Cold War spy games is as lifeless as Nikita Khrushchev.

“The Double,” from Image Entertainment, opens tomorrow in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: *1/2

‘Puss in Boots’

Puss in Boots is moving out of Shrek’s shadow.

After playing a supporting role in three movies about the green ogre, the swashbuckling cat now stars in his own animated 3-D adventure. “Puss in Boots” is more feline fun than a ball of yarn.

Voiced again in the silky Latin inflections of Antonio Banderas, Puss joins sidekicks Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) to battle the ugly outlaws Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris).

Filmmaker Chris Miller, who also directed “Shrek the Third,” uses just the right mix of action, humor and cuteness. It’s enough to make Shrek greener with envy.

“Puss in Boots, from Paramount Pictures, opens tomorrow across the U.S. Rating: ***

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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