'Pirates' sets sail to mediocrity



Article Published: May. 26, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Pirates' sets sail to mediocrity

Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush star in 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.'



frank@mountaintimes.com

Even pirates get tired.

Disrupting international trade in the 18th century is no easy task, let alone doing so with computer-generated sea monsters, ghosts and Keith Richards.

It's a formula that Disney's hoisted to the maintop in its popular and lucrative "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, but one that's grown wearisome over its perpetually to-be-continued installments.

The latest - and fourth - entry, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" throws some of the series' convoluted, narrative baggage overboard (namely the Orlando Bloom/Keira Knightley saga), but still finds itself idling in the doldrums.

Practically speaking, it's more of the same, just with a new coat of paint - a series of loud action sequences stringing together a patchwork plot, minus the absurdly drawn-out story arc of its predecessors.

Loosely based on Tim Powers' novel, "On Stranger Tides" involves the fabled Fountain of Youth and the pirate of all pirates, Blackbeard (Ian McShane, HBO's "Deadwood").

It opens with staggering, swaggering pirate Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, "Public Enemies") escaping the gallows in London, only to learn that King George (Richard Griffiths, "Harry Potter") is determined to beat a Spanish expedition to the Fountain of Youth and requires Jack's knowledge of the matter - namely a map - to do so.

Furthermore, he's enlisted allegedly reformed pirate Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, "The King's Speech") as a privateer to lead the British expedition.

Determined to beat Barbossa to the punch, Jack sets out to find his own ship, but instead finds himself held captive on the Queen Anne's Revenge, captained by the notorious Blackbeard and his purported half-daughter (and Jack's former flame), Angelica (Penelope Cruz, "Broken Embraces").

Blackbeard, who can somehow perform black magic, is determined to find the legendary fountain, as well, and is willing to do anything to reach it - including setting sail in waters populated by beautiful, but considerably deadly, mermaids.

But enjoying the fountain's benefits isn't as easy as knocking back a cup - an ancient ritual must be performed, and one can only gain youth by robbing it from another.

With Barbossa hot in pursuit, the morally ambiguous Jack must choose sides - for better or worse.
For the audience, it's somewhere in between. "On Stranger Tides" isn't a bad movie, but it isn't very good. It's just not very exciting, and, even though it's considerably shorter than its recent predecessors, it still drags on.

Replacing series director Gore Verbinski ("Rango"), "On Stranger Tides" director Rob Marshall ("Chicago") doesn't test the waters, but rather plays it safe by way of formula.

Although Bloom and Knightley are nowhere to be seen, they've got some archetypical counterparts in pious missionary Philip (newcomer Sam Claflin) and misunderstood mermaid Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey, "The Well Diggers' Daughter").

Rolling Stones legend Keith Richards briefly returns as Jack's father, and Angelica serves a purpose as a personal foil to Jack, but their relationship is so ambiguous that it's hard to vest any interest or concern in its outcome. It's no fault of Cruz and Depp's, just that of the screenplay.

Performances vary, with Depp and McShane stealing the show - especially the latter. McShane boards, cuts down and captures every scene he's in, saying more with a stony glare than with the film's half-hearted dialogue.

The characters are just two-dimensional, even with the arbitrary, industry-standard 3-D treatment, which, apart from a few cutlasses being jabbed at the screen, doesn't amount to anything special (just like the movie).

But it's a pirate's life for Disney, as "Stranger Tides" sets things up for subsequent sequels (the studio has reportedly planned at least two more). Who knows, maybe they'll incorporate other theme-park attractions into the narrative. Give it a couple years, and "Pirates of the Caribbean: It's a Small World After All" will likely set sail.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 16-B or visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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