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'Pirates of Caribbean'

'Pirates of Caribbean' survives despite a sinking script

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

In any swashbuckling action between romantic pirates and dull British authority, there's no doubt where our sentiments lie: Beat 'em, bucs.

Johnny Depp, left, and Orlando Bloom star in "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl." (Elliot Marks)

"Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl"

Rating: PG-13 for action/adventure violence

Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.

Director: Gore Verbinski

Critic's call:

But buccaneers come in more than one form: There's your noble Fairbanks-Flynn variety, your snarling walk-the-plank villain, your Captain Hook parody -- and then there's Johnny Depp.

He fits no mold, and neither does "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" (could they have lengthened the title?). It is that unique, if not long-awaited, thing: a Disney film inspired by a Disney theme-park ride, instead of vice versa. A block off the old chip.

The yarn goes something like this: Rakish Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) -- the Caribbean's best and worst pirate -- loses his ship, the Black Pearl, to his nemesis Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who uses it to attack the town of Port Royal and kidnap the governor's spunky daughter (is there any other kind?), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley).

To regain ship and chick, Jack teams up with her blacksmith boyfriend (Orlando Bloom). But bewhigged Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport) is in pursuit of the same prizes, and there's an ancient curse on the Black Pearl, from ill-gotten Aztec gold, that's gonna make things tougher for everybody.

Talk about a skeleton crew. Barbossa's men have a plethora of glass eyes and a dearth of teeth, plus a nasty nocturnal habit of turning into zombies. You can't kill the darned things. Unless you find the last missing piece-of-eight that completes the treasure island's full set of 800.

Oh, that Johnny! As pirate, he's a better Don Juan con than fighter. He'd much rather be in the sack, yo-ho-hoing with a bottle of rum and Coke. Director Gore Verbinski has given him full rein to create the character, and Depp does so in bizarre keeping with his most offbeat roles of the past ("Ed Wood" and "Blow" in particular.) He is fey-to-gay jaded, with mincing mannerisms, mucho mascara, Rasta beads and braids. A campy Keith Richard of the high seas. You gotta admire Depp. He is totally unafraid to take risks, including the risk of alienating his "fan base."

Rush is delicious as Barbossa -- "a man so evil that hell itself spat him back out." He even has a pirate parrot!

Bloom (the only one with good hair in "Lord of the Rings") is perfect, especially in his swordplay with Depp.

Less perfect is the script, which is not as amusing as it wishes to be, except for a running-gag invocation of the Pirate Code -- "more guidelines than actual rules." The slapstick bonking of people on the head with bottles and frying pans gets tedious, and it's all just a bit too cute.

On the other hand, the cartoonish violence is unobjectionable, the above-and-underwater photography luscious and the musical score stirring. By way of final amusement-park analogy, this ride feels less like hi-tech Disney than a benign cross between Noah's Ark and the old Laugh in the Dark at Kennywood. I'd rather go there than Anaheim any day.

But never mind. If these "Pirates" don't lead the league, they're not in last place, either.

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