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Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides REVIEWED BY TIM GRIERSON

A new director and some key cast changes do lit- tle to right the ship for Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the oversized fourth instalment in this decreasingly entertaining franchise. Chi- cago director Rob Marshall brings back all the familiar elements — swashbuckling action, big set pieces, Johnny Depp’s self-mocking camp per- formance — but this lumbering enterprise seems far removed from the freshness and charm of the 2003 original. Having its big public unveiling here at the

Cannes Film Festival before rolling out interna- tionally, On Stranger Tides seems certain to domi- nate multiplexes for the next few weeks until X-Men: First Class and Super 8 pose more direct challenges in early June. For a series that thus far has grossed roughly $2.7bn worldwide, this new Pirates sequel (the first to be shown in 3D) is con- fronted by the question of not if it will do well but just how well it will do. The answer to that will be determined by whether audiences have missed Depp’s heroics in the four years since At World’s End or if they are ready to move on to other cine- matic adventures. Without a vessel of his own to command, Cap-

tain Jack Sparrow (Depp) finds himself aboard the ship of the ruthless Blackbeard (McShane) and his beautiful daughter Angelica (Cruz), with whom Sparrow has shared a complicated roman- tic past. Blackbeard wants Sparrow to help guide him to the mythical Fountain of Youth, which


US. 2011. 136mins Director Rob Marshall Production company Jerry Bruckheimer Films Domestic distribution Walt Disney Pictures, www. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer Executive producers Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Ted Elliott, John DeLuca, Barry Waldman, Terry Rossio Screenplay Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, suggested by the novel by Tim Powers Cinematography Dariusz Wolski Production designer John Myhre Editors David Brenner, Wyatt Smith Music Hans Zimmer Main cast Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges- Frisbey, Stephen Graham

is also being pursued by Sparrow’s old nemesis, Barbossa (Rush). At 136 minutes, On Stranger Tides is actually

the shortest of the Pirates movies, which indicates the more-is-more mentality of this Jerry Bruck- heimer franchise. Unfortunately, as the series has progressed, the emphasis on spectacle has flat- tened much of the adorable eccentricity of Depp’s once-novel turn as the flamboyant, self-deluded Sparrow. And while On Stranger Tides does not have the maddening subplots that made At World’s End indecipherable to those without an intimate knowledge of the entire series, this new chapter features a slim story which has been mer- cilessly stretched to allow for perfunctory action sequences. Thanks to Marshall’s background directing the

musicals Chicago and Nine, On Stranger Tides does boast more grandiose flourishes and a minimally balletic quality to its swordfights, but the movie’s slack humour and slow pace lacks the graceful- ness and quicksilver wit of his best work. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, who

appeared in the original trilogy, are not around for this instalment, and while it would be inaccurate to say their presence is missed, the new characters screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio intro- duce to the series do not add much pizzazz. As a tempestuous, untrustworthy former lover, Pene- lope Cruz displays critically low amounts of chem- istry with Depp, while Ian McShane projects icy menace as Blackbeard, despite the fact the charac- ter is rather underdeveloped.

In place of the love affair between Bloom and

Knightley’s characters, On Stranger Tides inserts a waterlogged romance between an earnest mis- sionary (Claflin) and a mermaid (Berges-Frisbey), but this storyline seems wholly unnecessary in a movie that is pokey enough already. Even on the level of action-adventure escapism,

On Stranger Tides underwhelms, featuring only one truly imaginary sequence, which involves a face-off between Sparrow’s team and some sur- prisingly malicious mermaids. Otherwise, the film- makers rely on swordplay and chase scenes which are more elaborate than truly invigorating. It is clear no expense has been spared to craft the film’s special effects and production design, but On Stranger Tides’ generally darker-tinged look (aided by shaded 3D glasses) fails to highlight sufficiently the money spent up there on the screen. Despite being fatally cumbersome, On Stranger

Tides does have its bright spots, particularly Rush’s continuingly clever turn as the villainous Bar- bossa. When the first Pirates film, The Curse Of The Black Pearl, arrived, it was marked by outlandish but nicely controlled performances from Depp and Rush, who seemed to be relishing the chance to be so broadly entertaining in a mainstream summer blockbuster. Since then, sadly, Depp’s portrayal has become more smug and lazy, while Rush’s has remained sharp and lively. Tellingly, Depp only really sparks to life when he is acting opposite Rush: it is a faint reminder of what unlikely fun The Curse Of The Black Pearl was. But that ship has long since sailed.

May 14, 2011 Screen International at the Cannes Film Festival 19 n

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