In the press much has been made of the curse which has kept pirate movies walking the box office plank for decades and the question as to whether Johnny Depp’s crack at the genre will manage to elude it. The movie does just barely though, for my money, only during scenes in which the star is on screen and, of those, only the ones that don’t involve swordfights, which here tend to be elaborate but tiresome.
Certainly this is a far, far better film than Roman Polanski’s 1986 deep sea disaster Pirates. Ditto “Cutthroat Island,” a picture widely credited with sinking the careers of Geena Davis, Matthew Modine, director Renny Harlin and the film form itself. But then that’s like saying “Pirates of the Caribbean” is more enjoyable than being hit by a bus. Repeatedly.
Depp’s characterization is the key to what success the film does achieve. In playing Captain Jack Sparrow, buccaneer, rum lover, lady’s man and all around rogue, the actor essentially does a dead on Keith Richards impression supplemented by a variety of eccentric mannerisms. It’s a watchable concoction. The problem is director Gore (“The Ring”) Verbinski insists on giving equal time to less colorful characters.
There’s rival pirate Geoffrey Rush who’s stolen Sparrow’s ship and fallen victim to the eponymous curse. (The captain and his crew are doomed to spend eternity as living dead, revealed by moonlight to be walking, talking bone men). There’s Keira Knightley who’s kidnapped as part of a scheme to lift it. She was fabulous in “Bend it Like Beckham.” Her character in this film, however, is so underwritten she gets to do little aside from displaying generic disdain and perfect cheekbones.
There’s Jonathan Pryce as her father, the colonial governor, Jack Davenport as the British officer who wants her as his bride and Orlando Bloom as the commoner who truly loves her and teams up with Sparrow to come to her rescue. Among many, many others.
In the press much has been made of the movie’s special effects but, in fact, they’re strictly of the “Mummy,” “Tomb Raider” variety. Swordfighting skeletons, let’s face it, are hardly a groundbreaking sight. They’ve been a staple of the big screen since 1958’s “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad” and they aren’t a whole lot more convincing here than they were when Ray Harryhausen first conjured them. A bit more wit and whimsicality in the script, fewer stock characters, more screen time for Depp and we might’ve had a picture reminiscent of “The Princess Bride.” As it is, what we have is a Jerry Bruckheimer production. Not a sunken wreck by any means. At the same time, not quite summer movie treasure.