THE RUM DIARY
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Scott.
The movie opens with a plane flying through the clouds as it passes over the ocean. Inside a darkened hotel room, Paul Kemp’s (Johnny Depp) bloodshot eye snaps open. He staggers to the window and throws it open to let in the bright sunlight of an ocean view, and we see the plane is towing a sign welcoming Union Carbide to Puerto Rico.
Kemp is barely functional, and as he stumbles in the bathroom and shakily opens a bottle of aspirin, he hears a knock on the door, as the room service he doesn’t remember ordering arrives. He blearily asks the hotel employee if he’d ordered eggs and the man stares in disbelief at the shambles the room is in. The bell boy focuses in on the room’s honor bar fridge which is lying on its side on the floor, with visible scratch marks on the door. Kemp tells him that he had meant to complain to the management. He had been unable to open his bar. The bell boy warily tells him that it is the small key on the same ring as his room key. Kemp thanks him as he opens it and begins to fish out miniature bottles of rum and says he had wanted some nuts the night before.
Later Kemp is in the back of a taxi, swigging occasionally from one of the miniatures. The driver attempts to speak with him, but Kemp tells him curtly that he doesn’t speak Spanish. They arrive at the offices of the San Juan Star which is surrounded by angry local workers who pelt anyone attempting to enter with bottles and tomatoes. Kemp slips in and makes his way to the newsroom.
He knocks on the editor’s door, and is told by Sala (Michael Rispoli) that he had better wait. Sala is the paper’s photographer, and the two talk as they wait for the editor, Lotterman, to become available. When Sala sees that Lotterman is off the phone, he says Kemp can knock again, but advises him not to notice Lotterman’s hairpiece.
Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) is the paper’s put upon editor. He complains about the poor quality of workers he has. He asks Kemp if his office is too bright since Kemp is still wearing his sunglasses. Kemp tries to claim that he’s wearing them for medical reasons, but Lotterman says he knows they are to hide the signs of his hangover. Nevertheless, Kemp is hired, and Lotterman explains that Kemp will start off by writing the paper’s horoscope column. The man who had previously done it had been raped to death by sailors in one of the island’s seedier locales at the waterfront. He recommends that Kemp go to the paper’s library to go through back issues and get a feel for the paper. While Kemp is there reading, a man, Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) stops and gives him his card, saying they will be talking later.
At the end of the day, Sala takes Kemp to Al’s, an open air bar where the reporters gather every night to drink. As they leave the Star’s offices, Sala points out the new automated printing press that allowed the paper to cut its native workforce to five people. The layoffs are the reason the mob outside is so angry. At Al’s, Sala tells Kemp that the paper is nearly dead, and that he’s just hanging on to collect his severance pay, so that he can move on to Mexico after the paper closes. Sala suddenly warns Kemp not to look to his left in an attempt to avoid catching the eye of Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi) who is shuffling in to the bar. Moburg is dirty and disheveled, dressed in filthy clothes and a trench coat that hangs off of his gaunt frame. He is a reporter at the Star, but rarely turns up and is considered a degenerate by most of those who work there.
Sala drops Kemp off at his hotel, advising him to run up his bill as much as he can before Lotterman cuts him off. Kemp wanders into the lobby, but is barred from entering the pool as the Union Carbide people are having a party.
Kemp steals a paddle boat from the hotel’s beach and paddles it out onto the ocean. He’s startled when a beautiful woman suddenly emerges from the water near the boat. She apologizes, saying she didn’t know anyone would be out there. She had been at the party but chose to leave when her boyfriend began to give a long speech, knowing that she would have twenty minutes to go skinny dipping. Kemp is clearly attracted to her and asks her name. She says that it’s better he not know, so they can keep it a secret. She swims back to shore and the party.
The next day Kemp and Sala are at one of the many bowling alleys on the island interviewing American tourists. Kemp watches as the obese tourists bowl and gamble and drink and ends up turning in a story that Lotterman claims is too cynical. The paper’s readers don’t care about anything save seeing themselves in the paper and are there to have a good time. Kemp is disgusted but agrees to rewrite the story. Lotterman flies into a rage as he sees Moburg shuffle his way through the newsroom, saying that he’s only there because it’s payday and berates him loudly before firing him. He calls Kemp into his office and offers him a story; he’s to take a camera out to the airport to get an interview with the mayor of Miami.
Kemp sits impatiently at the airport and eyes the board for any sign of the plane from Miami. Suddenly Sanderson sits down and asks if he’d like to come to his house for lunch. Kemp declines, saying he’s waiting for the plane that’s delayed, but Sanderson smugly tells him that the flight’s been canceled, that he had “made a call.”
They drive in Sanderson’s sports car out away from the city through some beautiful countryside. Sanderson tells Kemp that Puerto Rico is a gold mine for the right sort of people. They arrive at Sanderson’s beach house, and Kemp is stunned that Sanderson’s fiancée is the same woman he met in the ocean the night before. She is Chenault (Amber Heard) and she and Kemp awkwardly introduce themselves. Sanderson asks if they’ve met before, but Kemp claims that he thought he’d seen her on the plane in. Chenault had been out sunbathing, and Sanderson admonishes her for sunbathing nude as some of the locals sneak down to watch her. Kemp makes his excuses and hurriedly leaves saying he has an appointment.
He is meeting with Sala to discuss renting a room in Sala’s rundown apartment. Lotterman had finally received a bill and angrily cuts Kemp off after asking him how he had managed to drink more than 160 miniature bottles of rum in just a couple of days.
Kemp wanders through the apartment, seeing that Sala has been keeping chickens in one of the rooms and stops when he sees that amongst the records in the collection are several records of Hitler’s speeches. Sala tells him that they are Moburg’s, but assures Kemp that Moburg is rarely there. Then, Moburg stumbles in with two filters he has stolen from the Bacardi factory that allows him to make some super high proof rum. He tells them that Lotterman has rehired him, and he drunkenly begins to inform them of how he would like to murder Lotterman in graphic detail. Finally, Sala sends him away with a bottle of his bootleg rum.
Kemp asks Sala about the chickens, and whether he keeps them to eat. Sala tells him that he is raising them for cockfighting and takes Kemp to a cockfight in one of the poorer areas of town. Kemp watches as Sala’s bird wins a fight, taking pictures of the fight. He then wanders off into an alley behind the building where he sees a group of children picking through garbage. He snaps several pictures and ends up writing a story about the deplorable conditions. The two men leave when Sala sees some men bring in a giant white bird known as El Monstro, which has never lost.
Again, Lotterman refuses to run the story, saying nobody cares about how bad the natives have it. He admits that he doesn’t dare anger the corporate interests that buy advertising in the paper. Kemp angrily leaves.
He then goes back to Sanderson’s for a dinner party that he arrives early to, bearing a bouquet of roses for Chenault. The house is deserted, but he sees Sanderson and Chenault out in the water on Sanderson’s yacht and watches as the two have sex in the ocean. He’s startled when a man and woman suddenly enter the house. The man is Mr. Zimburger (Bill Smitrovich) a blustery Navy man who is there to meet with Sanderson about the deal the two men are setting up that they want Kemp involved with.
Sanderson and Chenault come in bearing a sack of lobsters for the party. Sanderson and Kemp walk down the beach as Sanderson begins to explain what he wants Kemp to do. He is distracted when he sees some of the local men near the fence that blocks access to Sanderson’s beach. Sanderson loudly tells the men to leave and threatens to shoot them if they ever come near his beach again. Kemp stands by awkwardly as the three men leave the beach.
At the party, Kemp is clearly bored as Zimburger drunkenly rants about communists and Chenault comes over to “rescue” him. She thanks him for the flowers, and the two subtly flirt before Sanderson calls Kemp out to the deck for the meeting.
Sanderson is working with Zimburger, to gain access to land that the navy has been using for target practice. The land is worth a fortune and the men plan to develop it for hotels as it is some of the last undeveloped land available on the island. They want Kemp to write up some brochures selling the island to investors. Kemp is clearly uncomfortable with the idea and is saved when Chenault appears to tell him that Sala has arrived to pick him up.
In the car, Kemp drunkenly wishes he’d never met Chenault as he loves her and it complicates things. Sala warns him to leave her alone as the two pull in to a late night bar and restaurant. They stumble to a table and order drinks, but when Sala tries to order food the waitress refuses, saying the kitchen is closed. Sala insists the sign says food until midnight and she angrily storms away. The owner comes out with their drinks telling them to pay and get out. The crowd at the bar are all locals, and the mood is becoming very hostile. Sala is unaware of the danger, but catches on when Kemp panics at seeing that one of the men Sanderson threatened has just entered the bar and has just seen Kemp.
The two quickly leave and are trying to escape in Sala’s tiny run down car. To their horror, a pair of headlights appears behind them. It is a gang of men from the bar who chase them down and try to run them off the road. Kemp finds a bottle of Moburg’s bootleg rum and begins blowing fireballs in an attempt to drive off their attackers. It seems to be working, until Kemp accidentally blows a fireball in the face of an arriving police officer.
Kemp and Sala are arrested and taken to a holding cell that is crammed full with other prisoners. Kemp is taken aback when he sees one of the sailors Lotterman had warned him about giving him the eye.
They are handcuffed to an extremely drunk old man and dragged before a judge. Sala translates the testimony against them, that they refused to pay at the bar and then set fire to the police officer while laughing. When Sala asks to hear the testimony repeated and translated, the judge angrily tells him that the testimony has been given. The old man they are handcuffed to vomits, and in disgust the judge sentences them to one year in jail.
Just as he’s about to bang his gavel, Sanderson appears and using his connections manages to get Sala and Kemp released on bond. While happy to get out of jail, Kemp realizes now that with the bond, Sanderson can revoke it at any time meaning he has Kemp over a barrel. Before he drives off, Sanderson tells Kemp that he needs to come to a meeting the next day.
In the morning, a hungover Kemp searches vainly for something to drink in the apartment that isn’t liquor. Failing to get water out of the ancient tap in the kitchen he finally resorts to drinking water from Sala’s goldfish bowl.
Sala tells him that they have to go find his car, which had been left on the side of the road after their arrest. He’s afraid that the locals have already stripped it, but he insists they go and try and find it. The two take a taxi and find that the car’s doors and front seat have been stripped, but the engine still works. Sala tries to reach the steering wheel from the backseat, but realizes that it is too far. The two men drive back into town with Kemp sitting on Sala’s lap with his head sticking out of the sunroof. The car’s axle begins to give way causing the car to jostle Kemp up and down on Sala’s lap.
It is in this awkward position that they spot a cop car keeping pace with them. They panic when they realize that one of the officers in it is the one they set on fire the previous night.
Kemp hastily takes a right turn onto what turns out to be a staircase and the car crashes into a house at the bottom of the hill.
He arrives late to the meeting with Sanderson to find out that he’s expected to make a trip to the proposed location of the new hotel. Sanderson makes him sign a confidentiality form and then asks him out to a deck overlooking the ocean. He gives another speech about how Puerto Rico is like a “ocean of money” and he’s someone who can take it for everything.
Kemp asks for an advance on his pay, saying he needs to get a new car and find a place to live. Sanderson tells him that he’ll be provided everything he needs, and gets on the phone to arrange a very nice sports car. He asks that Kemp pick up Chenault and bring her in to town.
Kemp arrives to find Chenault trying on dresses for her and Sanderson’s trip to Carnival. She models a few for Kemp and asks which she should wear.
The two set off for town and Chenault dares Kemp to find out how fast the car can go. He declines saying he’s already crashed one car that day. She bets him that he’ll scream before she does, but refuses to tell him what he’ll get if he wins. Kemp accelerates and they both end up screaming as he nearly drives the car off of a dock. They nearly kiss, but Kemp pulls away saying that he should get her to Sanderson. Chenault tells Kemp he should go to the Carnival as well, but he tells her that Sanderson hasn’t invited him.
At the paper, Lotterman is on a rampage, tearing into Kemp and Sala for getting arrested and screaming at Moburg. He tells them that the police had been by looking for them. Kemp suggests to Sala that he should accompany him to the meeting and then to Carnival in the hopes that some of the heat on them will die down.
A seaplane deposits them on a pristine beach that is marred only by the constant sound of explosions from the Naval bombing range. They are shown a model of the proposed hotel and Zimburger and the rest laugh at the killing they are expecting to make on developing the area.
They arrive at Carnival and Kemp spots Chenault in the crowd. She takes him to Sanderson’s boat, and Sanderson is furious that Kemp brought Sala with him to the island, violating his confidentiality agreement. Later, Kemp stares out at the ocean, and Chenault sits with him. She asks what he’s reading, and he tells her it’s the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and tells her that the man who wrote it was only twenty five when he wrote it and laments that he hasn’t written anything, that he hasn’t found a way to write as himself.
They end up going to a restaurant and Sanderson is goaded into going along with Kemp and Sala to a club by Chenault. At the club, a drunk Chenault dances wildly with some of the locals. Sanderson becomes furious when he sees a man begin to undress her on the floor. He tries to rush to her, but he is beaten and thrown out of the club, and Kemp and Sala are not allowed to go back in for Chenault.
The next morning Kemp tells Sala that he’s looked everywhere and can’t find her. They go back to Sanderson’s boat to see if she’d returned, and Sanderson glares icily at them as he prepares to cast off, telling them that it’s none of their business. He demands the keys to the car back, and as he sails off he tells Kemp that he’s blown it.
When Kemp and Sala return to San Juan they negotiate a deal with Moburg for an old motorcycle with a sidecar. Moburg offers to throw a new type of drug in on the deal, but only if one of them will look at his penis, saying that he thinks there is something wrong with it. Sala and Kemp argue about who will do it, before Kemp agrees to do it, but only in the reflection of a mirror. Kemp stares in horror as Moburg asks if it’s the Clap, and Kemp tells him that it’s a “standing ovation.”
That night Kemp and Sala take the drug, LSD, by using an eyedropper to place it in their eyes. At first nothing seems to happen, then Kemp begins to hallucinate that Sala’s tongue begins to grow out of his mouth to an insane length. Later the two wander the city in a daze and Kemp seems to communicate with a lobster in a tank.
The next morning there is a knock on the door and Kemp answers it only to find a weary Chenault there. He brings her in and lets her stay in his room. He goes to Sanderson’s to get her belongings and stands there silently as a spiteful Sanderson hurls her clothes over the fence.
Later they find out that Sanderson has closed the paper and canceled their bail, meaning they can be arrested at any time and sent to jail. Sala says he knows a lawyer and leaves to go talk to him. Chenault comes to Kemp in the shower and the two begin to have kiss and nearly have sex when they are interrupted by loud shouting from the front room.
It is Moburg, listening to his Hitler records. He tells Kemp that the paper has been closed, and they won’t receive any severance pay. They go to Al’s, where the paper’s staff is meeting to discuss the failure of the paper. Kemp tries to rally them to help him publish the story about Sanderson’s dealings, but only Sala and Moburg agree to help.
They return to the apartment to find that the power has been turned off. Kemp finds a letter from Chenault saying she has left for New York and has left him a hundred dollars. Sala tells him that he should just use the money to buy a plane ticket to follow her, but Kemp still wants to run one last issue to nail Sanderson. Moburg says that it will take at least 2000 dollars to print the paper. Kemp remembers that Sala had told him that he had seen some people win that much at the cockfights and asks Sala if they could get El Monstro could they win the money.
They get El Monstro, and Moburg takes them to the hermaphrodite witch doctor he had gone to to cure his case of the clap. The witch doctor performs a bizarre ritual to make El Monstro invincible, and asks if they would like anything else. Despite being freaked out by her/him, they ask if a curse can be placed on Sanderson and another ceremony is performed ending with the witch doctor vomiting out a live frog.
Sala and Kemp head to the cockfights to win the money while Moburg is meant to rally the former workers of the Star.
El Monstro wins all of his matches and Kemp and Sala take a taxi to the office only to find that the gates to the printing area are padlocked. Moburg admits that he couldn’t bring himself to tell Kemp that all of the paper’s printing presses had been removed, and it will be impossible for them to print the story.
Sala and Moburg watch as Kemp wanders through the empty print room, and Kemp tells them that he wanted to win just one time. That the room smells like bastards and that it smells like ink and smells like truth.
They gain some small measure of revenge when Kemp decides to steal Sanderson’s boat to flee the island. The three men say goodbye and Kemp sails off as the sun rises.
On the screen, it says that Kemp eventually found Chenault in New York and married her, and became one of America’s most respected journalists. He found his voice and became an enemy of all bastards.
The last thing we see is a dedication to Hunter S. Thompson along with a photo of him as a young man in Puerto Rico.