Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Title: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

"Pirates?" Who's Back From The First Three? The notable absences are Keira "Elizabeth Turner (nee Swann)" Knightley and Orlando "Will Turner" Bloom. Besides Jack Sparrow, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Gibbs return, and a couple of new characters are introduced. Because otherwise - ha ha - a fourth Pirates movie would just seem overindulgent.

Rating Using Random Objects Related To The Film: One-and-a-half Ariels out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) hears someone in London is masquerading as him in order to recruit a crew. Upon further investigation, he discovers the dread pirate Rob...uh, Blackbeard is sailing in search of the fabled Fountain of Youth. As it happens, so are the British and Spanish. Further explanation is unnecessary, and would only serve to impede the flow of cash into Disney's coffers.

What's The Deal With The Mermaids? The half women/half fish are integral to utilizing the Fountain to its full potency (a tear from one is mixed with the waters to confer immortality). Disney has also reversed their previous stance and turned them essentially into really hot sharks who drag men into the depths and eat them alive. A group of them are also capable of sinking a warship. For the parents out there, they're a less kid-friendly version of Tasha from The Backyardigans.

Actually, the Whitecap Bay scene is as intense as anything in the franchise. At least, it was the only part of the movie where I wasn't checking my watch.

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Four parties are searching for the Fountain: the Spanish, the British (commanded by now "privateer" Capt. Barbossa), Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter - a former flame of Jack's named Angelica (Penelope Cruz), and Jack Sparrow himself. After Jack is shanghaied to serve on Blackbeard/Angelica's ship, he leads a mutiny (which it turns out are largely ineffectual on magical vessels), then joins forces with the famous-er pirate to beat the others. Blackbeard is seeking immortality to avoid a prophecy that he will be killed by a one-legged man, while the newly one-legged Barbossa simply wants revenge on Blackbeard for taking the Black Pearl. As for the Spanish, who knows?

"Critical" Analysis: As has been pointed out recently, there are a crapload of sequels in theaters this year. 27 total, with a record number of #4s (five) as well.

A franchise stretching out for that many films makes sense if the filmmakers are trying working from a series of books or comics requiring a longer narrative arc (Harry Potter, Twilight), or it's a series that's developed a reliable ticket-buying following (the James Bond movies). Most often, however, it's because the original made an acceptable amount of money and studios - who never met a stone they wouldn't try to squeeze blood from - would much rather reuse familiar characters and concepts than take a risk on an unknown.

Oh, and it doesn't hurt when the first three films have grossed you $2.6 billion worldwide. Know this: the only way you won't see a fifth Pirates movie is if Johnny Depp dies.

One thing about the first three movies, they had something resembling an overarching storyline. Even if they took their sweet ass time getting there. On Stranger Tides, on the other hand, feels suspiciously like we're entering the episodic phase of Jack Sparrow's career, in which each new movie will feature a couple guest stars and a vaguely mythical quest. Kind of like Young Indiana Jones with sword fighting.

Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) takes the reins from Gore Verbinski, not so you'd notice. This 4th installment is still crammed with plenty of bloated escape and fight scenes to demonstrate, once again, that Jack Sparrow is one lucky son of a bitch. I suppose there was some tension in the first/third movies, where we wondered if Jack might possibly die, but the guy was eaten by a kraken, for crying out loud. These would be great kids' movies, if kids could stay awake long enough.

And I don't know about you, but I just hate it when a movie leaves anything whatsoever to my imagination. By all means, make sure the characters drag the entire film to a halt to explain exactly what just happened and why. Or here's a better idea: stop convoluting everything - I mean, you need two chalices, one with a mermaid's tear in it, which is the one that allows you to drain the years from... - OH CAN WE JUST SEE PENELOPE CRUZ'S BOOBS ALREADY?.

I kid. Sort of. Disney doesn't show breasts, and Cruz is no more or less bland than in any of her other movies. I really wanted to like McShane's Blackbeard, and he looks the part well enough, but I know I wasn't the only person hoping he'd call Jack a cocksucker and feed Gibbs to that pig.

How Would You Rank The Pirates Films? Jesus. Look, #1 (Curse of the Black Pearl) is a guilty pleasure, and one I can see watching with my kids. Dead Man's Chest was as horrid a slog as I've ever had in a movie theater. At World's End was slightly better than that, and On Stranger Tiders is slightly worse than three. So...#1, #3, #4, #2.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is in theaters today. Rent a nice Errol Flynn movie and play some Curse of Monkey Island instead.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar