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Review: “Pirates of the Caribbean" Falls Flat

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After making its world premiere May 7 at Disneyland, Johnny Depp's fourth adventure as Capt. Jack Sparrow will head off to the south of France, where it will join Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" and Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life" as part of the Cannes Film Festival official selections.

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“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is among the noisiest, longest, most pointless and tired films of the year thus far.

In this, the fourth chapter in the saga of Capt. Jack Sparrow, our hero once again narrowly escapes the gallows before heading off across the bounding main, this time in search of Ponce de Leon’s long lost Fountain of Youth. Alas, circumstances force Jack to join forces with Blackbeard (with all his magical powers, why exactly does this guy need a crew?) and his daughter, Angelica (Penelope Cruz), who once-–ahem—knew Jack back in the day.

The mind reels at the amount of exposition that sags down this film, as seemingly half the dialogue is comprised of people talking about what has happened, what will happen or what needs to happen. All the talk of off-camera action brings to mind David Mamet’s hilarious and brilliant rant to his fellow writers of “The Unit” that surfaced last year:

THIS MEANS ALL THE “LITTLE” EXPOSITIONAL SCENES OF TWO PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD. THIS BUSHWAH (AND WE ALL TEND TO WRITE IT ON THE FIRST DRAFT) IS LESS THAN USELESS, SHOULD IT FINALLY, GOD FORBID, GET FILMED.

By the third time Capt. Jack asks for someone to clarify “the ritual” necessary to make the magic of the Fountain of Youth work, any sane person is past the point of caring.

Director Rob Marshall made his name in theater before making his feature-film directorial debut with “Chicago,” which earned 13 Oscar nominations, including one for his direction. But on the high seas, Marshall appears to be in way over his head, failing to understand that even in the lowbrow world of action films, you can’t convey drama simply by cranking up the score. He also doesn't realize that the more you fall back on volume, the less effective it is.

Similarly, all those sweeping panoramic shots of the various ships and landscapes become progressively less majestic. If he’d cut out three-quarters of them, he’d have made a far better film and gotten us all home about 15 minutes earlier.

Then there are the mermaids. Let’s just say that if last year’s “Piranha” tickled your funny bone, the mermaid attack in “PotC” will have you rolling in the aisles. And here’s a tip for anyone trying to make a mermaid cry: just tug on a nose hair, it doesn’t have to be such an acrimonious affair.

Depp has been doing Capt. Jack for four films now, spanning nearly a decade, and it shows. The tics, feints, eyes, facial contortions… we’ve seen it all before. In the absence of a great script and director, it feels like little more than mugging. And Keith Richards’ cameo as Sparrow’s father is a disappointment, as well, with the aging rocker nearly unrecognizable under a mountain of latex and acting less like himself than Depp is.

But the absolute worst, most depressing part of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is that by the film’s conclusion, all the pieces are put in place for a fifth installment.
 

“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” comes out Friday May 20, in both 3D and IMAX.

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