Johnny Depp dreadlocks out and swagger-prances onto a pirate ship once more in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, part four in the series of movie based on a Disney ride.
And at this point, I think I’m starting to appreciate the story-telling and nuance of the ride.
So, back in the saddle, drunken marionette Capt. Jack Sparrow (Depp) winds up in London, on the run from Johnny Law (or, this being London, maybe it’s Sir John, Baron of Law). He hears that someone has been using his name to recruit a crew and when he goes to meet the rascal he finds Angelica (Penelope Cruz), a woman with whom he once had a torrid affair. She helps him escape the red coats looking to capture him but eventually drugs him and brings him aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge, a ship belonging to Blackbeard (Ian McShane). She and Blackbeard are looking for the Fountain of Youth, and while they have the know-how to complete the ritual to extend life, they don’t have the shiny cups they need or the map and the compass that Sparrow has.
Or make that, the map that Sparrow had. Because when Sparrow tried to help his old first mate and buddy Gibbs (Kevin McNally) escape the British governmetn back in London, Gibbs swiped the map. So now he has a bargaining chip with Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), a former pirate now in the employ of the British government. Barbossa is also looking for the Fountain of Youth, perhaps to counteract the effects of losing a leg during a recent battle.
And joining this mad mad mad mad chase to the Fountain are the Spanish, who are just sort of trouble-causing jerks in this movie.
While the ships race to the Fountain, we also have subplots about Barbossa’s leg, Angelica and Sparrow’s relationship, whether or not Blackbeard is Angelica’s father and the fate of the ship Black Pearl. Two-plus hours of sword fights and banter and mermaids — including a whole mermaid/human romance that ends abruptly and leaves you wondering why you ever bothered trying to gin up interest. In the end, it’s all so much decoration for a party that never starts. While grocery shopping this past Sunday, I saw Jack Sparrow in the cereal aisle — seriously, a man perfectly costumed, dreads, boots and all. The few seconds I saw him pushing a cart through the Hannaford, causing everybody to look at him twice, was at least as entertaining as the entire 137 minutes of this movie. I mean, you don’t see a pirate every day but apparently we’ll be getting a sequel per week this whole summer.
And that brings us to the big flaw of this movie. It’s not that the action or the pirating are worse than the previous movies (though I’d say the story and the characters are flatter and less engaging, particularly than the very first movie and I didn’t even like that one). It’s that they’re the same. The most exciting, surprising, unexpected thing the character of Jack Sparrow has done in years is to show up a few carts behind me in the checkout line. In this movie he is ho-hum — in fact, the spark seems to have faded even from Depp’s wacky performance.
Pirates of the etc. etc. shoots for high action and big hijinks but feels more like mild swash with very little shine on the buckle. C
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo. Directed by Rob Marshall and written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio from characters by Rossio, Elliott, Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolper, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is two hours and 17 minutes long and distributed by Walt Disney.