THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES"
Johnny Depp checks out Penelope Cruz's pirate booty.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is an amazing experience - provided you enjoy watching a dead horse being beaten. I've never been a fan of the series to begin with, but everything about this particular installment feels way past its expiration date. I wouldn't be surprised to find there was mold growing on the actual film prints.
Johnny Depp returns as Capt. Jack Sparrow, who this time is being compelled by the pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and a con artist/former lover named Angelica (Penelope Cruz) to help search for the legendary fountain of youth. (Oh goodie - a plot device that's never been used before.) Hot on their trail is another of Sparrow's foes, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who has his own personal motivations for chasing them. The journey takes everyone through dangerous terrain, where they face such hazards as mermaids. That's right, mermaids. Bloodthirsty, murderous mermaids.
Okay, I could maybe get on board with that idea. Sadly, On Stranger Tides hasn't a clue what to do with it, or with much else for that matter. The movie struggles to find a reason to exist after three previous chapters, which leads it to become annoyingly talky. With a Pirates movie, you rightfully expect a handful of over-the-top action sequences. The few that are here have been handled with leaden direction by Rob Marshall (Chicago) and are sandwiched between long stretches of people standing around talking. There are a lot of words being spoken, although not much meaning behind them. That produces a weird effect. Remember those old Charlie Brown cartoons where all the adults talked in a wah-wah-wah voice? The dialogue sounded a lot like that to me.
Most of all, this sequel suffers from the fact that the Pirates franchise essentially tried to generate itself out of nowhere. Based on a theme park ride, of all things, the original turned out to be a phenomenal box office success, so Disney made the decision to turn it into a saga. Parts 2 and 3 were filmed simultaneously, with the filmmakers scrambling to figure out a way to extend the already-lightweight story across two sequels. Given that Jack Sparrow became a pop culture icon and turned Depp into a major movie star, they increasingly moved him into the foreground. This time around, he's the lead character, with the ones played by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley nowhere to be found.
There were two problems with Disney's plan. One was that the plot became bloated and meandering in Dead Man's Chest and At World's End, to the point where many viewers (myself included) couldn't follow it. The other problem is that Jack Sparrow is like Kramer on "Seinfeld": he's amusing in small doses, but you don't necessarily want the whole thing to revolve around him, because his shtick wears thin. On Stranger Tides admittedly streamlines the plot a bit, although it remains more complicated than it ought to be. As for Sparrow, well, he's just not multidimensional enough to support a 136-minute movie on his own. You kind of know what he's going to say and do before he says or does it. Any sense of surprise he once had is long gone.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a sequel completely devoid of new ideas and therefore left with nowhere to go. Cruz, while breathtakingly beautiful, does nothing to spice up the series. The action scenes are dark and sloppily edited so that you can't always tell what's happening. They also give you the same stuff you already saw in the previous chapters. Chasing after the fountain of youth is a dusty old premise that leads the characters to a very predictable payoff.
I was bored stiff by this movie. Over the last few years, I've taken flack from family, friends, and readers for thinking that the Pirates flicks are ponderous. I have a feeling that more than a few fans are going agree with me this time.
( 1/2 out of four)
Note: I saw On Stranger Tides in 2D, and boy, am I glad I did. So much of the movie takes place at night that I think it would have been unwatchable in 3D, where the glasses further darken the image.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is rated PG-13 for sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo. The running time is 2 hours and 16 minutes.