(No longer in theaters)
Walt Disney Pictures
May 20, 2011
The fourth Disney–Jerry Bruckheimer–Johnny Depp Pirates picture, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, is not merely bad. It buries the memory of the days when movies seemed fresh and innocent, when you could be swept along by a story without terms like “franchise” and “tent-pole” and box-office grosses and the Tomato-meter and the likelihood of sequels and spinoffs crowding the characters out of your head. I’ve never seen a film in which what was actually onscreen seemed so irrelevant.
The film—which jettisons Keira Knightley and the guy who was so bland I can’t even remember his name … Oliver … Orson … Orlando Bloom!—revolves around a lot of people trying to find the Fountain of Youth. But you don’t know where in this scavenger hunt the various antagonists are in relation to one another, geographically, so there’s no suspense, and nothing seems to come of the myriad sword fights. Yes, it’s more streamlined than the third Pirates picture, which seemed to go on for days, but the new director, Rob Marshall, doesn’t have his predecessor Gore Verbinski’s dash. Every swashbuckling set piece is several beats too long, so that you’re always ahead of the action, impatient for the punch line.
Depp has milked Captain Jack Sparrow dry. He totters into the frame and does his tipsy effeminate shtick, then stands aside for his stunt double. (In one scene, he duels with a Sparrow impersonator, but since it’s two doubles you can’t tell which is supposed to be which.) With all Depp’s much-vaunted integrity, isn’t he ashamed? At the very least, isn’t he bored out of his skull? Penélope Cruz shows up for the paycheck as another of Sparrow’s jilted lovers, and she must have gone crazy trying to make sense of the part, since her motives change from scene to scene. Everyone keeps double-crossing everyone else, which results in a pirate movie with no emotional—or even melodramatic—clarity. At least Ian McShane as Blackbeard is an unambiguous psychopath. McShane can always be counted on to bring a whiff of brimstone.
On Stranger Tides does have one entertaining addition: a bevy of mermaids who look like friendly, emaciated supermodels and then sprout fangs and rip people apart like the shark in Jaws. (A nice touch: One horny pirate thinks disembowelment is a fair trade for a fondle.) But even the mermaid scenes go on too long. The Pirates movies are meant to be big-budget wallows, but wasn’t there some Disney executive with attention-deficit disorder around to say, “Guys, pick up the pace!”? Where are the philistines when you need them?