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John Christopher Depp II, my adoration for you has endured these many years.  I suffered through your bratty reluctant heartthrob stage during your first splash of fame on the eighties’ TV show, 21 Jump Street.  You thankfully grew out of that tacky phase to become the muse and avatar of your BFF Tim Burton in such opuses (- opii?) as Edward Scissorhands {1990}, Ed Wood {1994}, Sleepy Hollow {1999}, and Sweeney Todd {2007}, and here you are all grown up and generally considered one the best regarded -- and coolest -- actor in Hollywood.  Dear Johnny, my adulation is an abiding thing, but even I don’t like to be taken for granted.  Not that I question your talent or motivation, but even I have to shake my head after viewing Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides over what’s left for you to do with your most famous creation, Captain Jack Sparrow.

Plumbing the tales of the high seas for yet another seafaring chestnut; this time we are in search of not a mystical ship or Davy Jones’ Locker, but that most mythic of all hunted treasures, the Fountain of Youth.  We begin our tale in Old Blighty, where even the palaces and might of King George can’t keep Captain Jack for long once he’s on a trail.  All the old sovereign did was attempt to make an honest man of our dreadlocked scoundrel by recruiting him as a legal and lawful privateer.  The catch is, Jack would serve under the command of his eternal rival, a newly peg-legged Captain Barbossa.  This arrangement just won’t do and Jack decides to set out for the Fountain himself after discovering an imposter is already amassing a crew for the very same mission.  The copycat’s moves are just a bit too close for comfort and the fraudulent Jack is actually an old paramour from long ago, who may or may not be seeking revenge for the loss of her innocence at the pirate’s grubby hands.  Angelica seems to have a bit of a Daddy fixation since her immediate next-of-kin turns out to be the most feared pirate of all, Blackbeard.  Mr. Beard is in desperate need of the Fountain of Youth as a prophecy has told him his days are numbered.  So shanghaied onto Blackbeard’s ship, Jack is in search of the Fountain, Barbossa is after it for the Crown of England, and for more fun, the Spaniards are also trailing a lead on it.  Who will get there first? 

Does it matter?  With a few exceptions, the Pirates of the Caribbean series has become about watching Johnny Depp totter around in a permanent state of inebriation, blurting out the occasional funny quip and committing the odd bit of swashbuckling and slapstick now and again.  Unfortunately for this chapter, the funny quips are way too occasional and there’s not enough swashbuckling or slapstick to keep up any momentum.  The series has simply lost its steam. 

There is the welcome addition of the brilliant Ian McShane, giving the film a precious gasp of life as a chilling Blackbeard.  All-too-few moments of Depp and Geoffrey Rush as best frenemies, Sparrow and Barbossa bring much needed spark to the slower moments, but in all there’s nothing particularly memorable about On Stranger Tides.  I will totally concede that this film is practically Citizen Kane compared to the eye-bleedingly unwatchable last installment, 2007’s At World’s End (Oh, poor Chow!), but it is wrong for me to want greatness? 

There are a couple of interesting ideas that play more like proposals for the next thrill ride at the Disney parks; like Sparrow and Barbossa’s balancing act on Ponce De Leon’s teetering ghost ship.  I can picture Captain Jack’s Wild Ride, a motion simulator imitating Sparrow’s crazy chase through generic London streets.  I enjoyed the film’s mermaids; gorgeous sylphs, part-siren, part-piranha that make a meal of the sailors they seduce.  In case the audience wasn’t sure whether they were looking at a moment of action, the blaring Hans Zimmer score was cranked up to eleven every time a character walked along at a clip faster than a saunter.  A romance between a captured missionary with a sinful six-pack and a stolen mermaid is meant to substitute for the lack of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley as the star-crossed lovers/subplot from the last three films.  While the pair are lovely to look at, it’s hard to believe that a couple could be written any paler than Bloom and Knightley in the last chapter, but here we have it.  

Everything is thinner and less involving in On Stranger Tides, and but for the Herculean strength of Depp’s charm and the presence of Rush and McShane, the film would hardly be worth watching at all.  I don’t know how many films Penelope Cruz has made over the past decade-plus that featured her in English-speaking roles, but egads, woman, as fellow Latinoid, I still can’t understand half the things you say.  She’s neither here nor there as Sparrow’s jilted love and good or ill; it looks like she’s going to be around for the inevitable sequel(s).  I’d rather have Dame Judi Dench, here in a saucy cameo that speaks for all womankind, as the femme fatale. 

This chapter is the first one presented in 3D, though I can’t see why.  There are literally about three ‘comin’ at ya’ moments that are clearly meant as a sop to the audience who actually expect more for their higher-priced 3D ticket, but it’s not worth it and feels like the cheap gimmick it is.  It almost adds insult to injury when one considers how hollow the entire enterprise is.  

This is what I meant by taking my adoration for granted, Mr. Depp.  I’m gonna need a better script next time, Johnny, otherwise we’re gonna have to think about counseling.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

May 20th, 2011



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