Jack Sparrow flits above shallow 'Tides'

Movie Review

Movie Review

  • Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow is brought before King George in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," now playing at area theaters.
Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow is brought before King George… (Peter Mountain, Disney…)
May 31, 2011|By Mike Giuliano

It seems fitting that "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" is about the search for the fountain of youth, because the fourth installment in this theme park ride-derived movie series shows signs of growing old.

Although Johnny Depp remains sly and swaggering as Captain Jack Sparrow, his audience-wooing attitude isn't quite enough to carry this picture. It's a long movie that's needlessly drawn out as Sparrow and several longtime antagonists vie to find those magic waters.

By sea and by land — and by the two-hour mark — these noisy pirates eventually converge on the island that may or may not contain the avidly sought fountain. You'll certainly feel older by the time they get there.

The movie actually gets off to a pretty lively start as Sparrow, who thrives on being in trouble, finds himself once again in captivity and improvising an escape. An overfed and overly powdered King George (Richard Griffiths) and a royal assortment of military authorities have Sparrow tied to a chair and primed for interrogation. As for Sparrow, he tosses witty insults at his captors and seems more interested in devising a way to obtain a cream puff that's just out of his reach.

He'll make his escape, of course, because nothing can come between him and a cream puff. Sparrow is exciting to watch as he swings from a palace chandelier, rushes through the colorfully crowded London streets, enounters Judi Dench as a society lady in a carriage, and briefly meets that fountain of wrinkles, Keith Richards.

It's the kind of silly action sequence that makes Jack Sparrow look like a reincarnation of Douglas Fairbanks.

Alas, Sparrow's latest pirate adventure is less entertaining as it moves along. Unlike Gore Verbinski, who directed the first three movies with a shameless knack for pop cultural nonsense, director Rob Marshall has a more straightforward (as in boring) sensibility.

Marshall is so unimaginatively devoted to sending Sparrow and the others on an extended search for the fountain of youth that entire sequences simply consist of watching ships sail ever onward or people hacking their way through jungles.

There is a marginal amount of tension as Sparrow jousts with two other pirates interested in searching for that legendary fountain. The movie actually does perk up a bit owing to Geoffrey Rush's savvy performance as the ruthless Barbossa, but it's not matched by Ian McShane's one-note performance as the evil Blackbeard.

Incidentally, the characters played by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly earlier in the franchise history do not appear at all in this fourth movie. Their absence is not explained and they're not likely to be missed.

Another major character definitely does show up on screen, but her presence does not strike the expected sparks. As Angelica, who may or may not be Blackbeard's daughter, Penelope Cruz gets ample opportunity to spar with Sparrow.

Although Cruz looks beautifully devious here, her character is so thinly written that her quasi-romantic exchanges with Depp have no depth. They're basically two movie stars who smirk at each other.

Of course, they're smirking at each other in 3-D. Maybe that explains why there are so many shots in which Penelope Cruz walks directly towards the camera wearing costumes that are, ahem, suitable for a tropical climate.

Other reminders that the story is being shot in 3-D include swords coming right toward your eyes. That may not be enough to thrust the story forward, but it does get your attention at the moment.

Considering the over-the-top, anything-for-a-laugh history of this franchise, the intrigue-laden and fight-filled scenes in which Sparrow, Barbossa, Blackbeard and Angelica search for the fountain of youth seem rather ordinary by action-movie standards. There is a nifty sequence involving cannibal mermaids, however, and that particular fish tail, er, tale briefly enlivens the movie.

It's understandable if you feel the urge to leave the moment the movie is over, but there's a valid reason to sit through the seemingly endless final credits. A short scene tacked onto the very end of the credits suggests where a fifth installment may go. You may not be anticipating that next journey, but you might as well know about it. Grade: C+

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (PG-13) is now playing at area theaters.

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