Monday, July 11, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean 4

Pirates of the Caribbean 4 On Stranger Tides
Grade: D
Cast: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane
Director: Rob Marshall
free admission granted

I don’t know if it’s a funny thing, a sad thing, a tragic thing, or really nothing. But the thing about Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides is that it is an improvement for the series. If anyone still cared. Which no one still does.

The box office will argue with me. A disturbing number of zillions of dollars will pile into the bank accounts of Disney, Jerry Bruckheimer and new director Rob Marshall this weekend. Thousands of multiplex zombies will show up out of some weird sense of obligation and need to see the next big thing that’s really the old big thing all over again. But they will leave it in the theater like so much bubble gum on the bottom of a seat.

Of course, that’s probably wrong for me to say. For the first time in the sequels, Johnny Depp actually seems to care again. There’s a sparkle in his eye that’s been missing. Several of the action sequences require deft physical slapstick comedy, particularly a fun chase through London that starts in Buckingham Palace. Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton were not only the first comedians; they were the first stuntmen, after all. And in its best moments, Pirates, Depp, and his doubles share that spirit.

It’s also probably wrong for me to say about Penelope Cruz, because she definitely cares, which is a lot more than we could say for Keira Knightley. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe the Spaniard has been in a blockbuster previously. So finally set loose as the first mate on the evil Blackbeard, she brings the same sort of relish that Cate Blanchett brought to the last Indiana Jones. She also creates a sexy edge that’s been wholly absent from previous voyages.

But the sailor’s yarn of Jack Sparrow’s quest for the Fountain of Youth is bedeviled by the way it uses its action beats as a crutch. The ADD chases, swordfights, CG mermaid attacks, etc. go off on a tight schedule, and become increasingly less effective by repetition. We can feel the way that modern Hollywood executives are held hostage by their fear of the American teenager’s attention span. They don’t need to be memorable so long as they are distracting.

So we finally wash ashore on this conundrum. If this were the second Pirates film, rather than the fourth, it might get a pass as the good ship of summer fun. (I say might, because it remains a ridiculously modern pageant of distraction ) But coming so late in the series, it just seems like more of the same.

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