When Gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson arrived in Puerto Rico in 1960, he was 23 years of age. Depp, here playing him in all but name, was 46 when he shot this movie in 2009. The actor therefore doesn't exactly convey youthful vigour. But he is good at suggesting the embryonic personality of Thompson emerging. The louche decadence is there but not fully formed yet. He reacts with refreshing cynicism but also a kind of wide eyed puzzled acceptance at the sights and sounds of the sunny climes he finds himself in. And at the eccentric characters he meets.
Depp's Paul Kemp gets a job at the San Juan Star, edited by the toupee wearing and continuously irritated Lotterman (Jenkins). The new arrival befriends scuzzy photographer Sala (Rispoli) and the two become partners in crime, indulging in drink and drugs to the consternation of all others. They're sometimes joined by perpetually stoned ace journalist Moberg (Ribisi). Kemp's irresponsible behaviour eventually leads to a falling out with shady benefactor Hal Sanderson (Eckhart), a smooth PR guru who enlists him to write some puff pieces about a dodgy hotel operation he puts into place. Kemp nevertheless goes along with the manipulative entrepeneur because he has the hots for Sanderson's fiancee Chenault (the gorgeously lithe Heard). Soon events begin to unravel for the befuddled hack and he finally must make a decision to pull himself up and deliver something of worth.
It's a colourful romp, jaunty and playful in tone but it's never that amusing. Dramatic elements negate the humorous aspects at times. It can't seem to make up its mind whether it wants to be a comedy or a more intriguing tale like Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana. The hot headed atmosphere is well conjured but overall the narrative is too meandering to exert a satisfying grip.
It's overlong, too. Maybe Robinson, marking his first directorial foray in nearly 20 years, needed to bring a stronger hand to his screenplay. There are some very good lines - "You look like an accusatory giblet!" exclaims Depp to Rispoli at one point while under the thrall of naughty substances - but the pace could be stepped up. In all, a curio then, not bad but not great either. But at least it's an improvement on Terry Gilliam's unwatchable Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, so one should at least be grateful for that.