Monday, May 23, 2011

Film Review | Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Dead Man Swimming

by Thomas Delapa

For the fourth voyage of Pirates of the Caribbean, producer Jerry Bruckheimer set sail with a new director at the helm, a slimy new villain and a salty leading lady. But don’t shiver your timbers, mateys—flighty Cpt. Jack Sparrow is back at the wheel, this time with zombies, mermaids and a load of mascara in tow.

Subtitled On Stranger Tides, this waterlogged swashbuckler sends Depp and crew on a—wink, wink—quest for the legendary Fountain of Youth. With three-time director Gore Verbinski, as well as stars Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, wisely abandoning ship, new skipper Rob Marshall (Chicago) goes overboard to revive a foundering franchise that by now should be sleeping with the fishes.

The new cast netted Ian McShane as the infamous Blackbeard, who’s enhanced his piracy with voodoo powers and a super-sized sword. Barely onboard is Penelope Cruz as Blackbeard’s daughter, whom Sparrow deflowered in a convent and now vows revenge. Hamming it up from stem to stern, Geoffrey Rush got his King’s Speech transfer and returns as Sparrow’s peg-legged rival Barbossa.

Screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio treat the rudderless plot like driftwood. Rather than be beaten by the hated Spanish, England’s King George hires Barbossa to find the Fountain of Youth first, with Blackbeard’s ghostly ship in vague pursuit. Blackbeard has “zombified” his crew, which is a pretty fair description of Pirates’ remaining ticket-buying public. In another lethargic nod to Depp’s original homage, Keith Richards flies in for a cameo as Sparrow’s dad, just long enough for a crusty in-joke. (“Does this face look like it’s been to the Fountain of Youth?”)

Exactly where all these pirates and privateers are going is as clear as mud, since almost every scene is an excuse for a tsunami of stunts, dull swordplay and special effects. An unusually bewitching scene with a singing mermaid quickly morphs (literally) into a screaming attack by a school of mermaids, digitally spawned into man-eating monsters.

With Knightley and Bloom in dry dock, the surviving stars are castaways in an inane story that gets old before anyone finds the Fountain of Youth. Cruz—evidently pregnant during the production—comes off as peaked, if not seasick. Depp’s tipsy, swishy shtick should have been deep-sixed two movies ago, but Disney and first mate Bruckheimer have never been shy about wringing the last drop of box-office booty from their franchise mega-hits.

On the surface, one might think that McShane—so suavely menacing in TV’s Deadwood— might be able to singlehandedly keep this Pirates voyage afloat. But like everyone else, he goes down with ship, victimized by a moribund story and scurvy dialogue.

Aye, avast the S.O.S. On Stranger Tides is a washout.


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