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Review: 'Pirates of the Caribbean' glorious

Film a terrific throwback to pirate movies of yore

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Keira Knightley and Johnny Depp in "Pirates of the Caribbean."

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(CNN) -- The last time Disney Studios used a theme park ride as the inspiration for a feature film, the result was an unwatchable mess called "The Country Bears." So I was less than excited upon hearing that yet another 15-minute amusement park ride was being dragged to the big screen.

But shiver me timbers, "The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" is a rousing action/adventure flick reminiscent of the glory years of pirate films 50 years ago.

Much of the success of this venture can be attributed to the outstanding cast -- especially Johnny Depp. He's marvelous as the pirate captain Jack Sparrow, a hippy-dippy rogue who looks a lot like Cher in her "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" period. Depp's Sparrow is a sexually ambivalent fop one minute, a dashing sword-slashing action hero the next. The film's considerable wit and humor is largely conveyed through his exquisitely eccentric character.

Geoffrey Rush is also an absolute delight as Captain Barbossa, a deliciously black-hearted evildoer who stole Sparrow's ship, the Black Pearl. And Orlando Bloom, who came to fame with the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, continues his winning streak playing Will Turner, a blacksmith in the Caribbean town of Port Royal.

Turner has been in love since childhood with Elizabeth Swann, the beautiful daughter of the governor of Port Royal, played by Keira Knightley ("Bend It Like Beckham"). However, she reluctantly has become engaged to the ambitious Commodore Norrington, played with a stiff upper lip by Jack Davenport.

Pursuing gold

In "Pirates," Orlando Bloom is a lovelorn blacksmith smitten with Knightley's character, Elizabeth Swain.

Before the Commodore can claim his bride, she is kidnapped by Barbossa, who is on a mission to end a curse placed upon his ship and his men. It seems the group stole some Aztec gold, and they're now skeleton ghosts doomed forever to rattle around in an existence between life and death -- unless they return every piece of the loot.

That last piece is in Elizabeth's possession and now she, and the final scrap of gold, are on their way to the mysterious Isla de Muerta to end the unholy curse.

Determined to rescue the love of his life, Turner enlists the help of Sparrow, who's about to be hanged for piracy. Together, the unscrupulous, unwashed pirate (with really great eye makeup) and the steady-hearted, true-blue youth steal the fastest ship in the British fleet, the H.M.S. Interceptor, and race across the high seas to save the fair damsel in distress.

Incidentally, pardon all the cliches -- but if ever a movie made them sing, it's this one.

Lots of fun

Geoffrey Rush is a cursed pirate in "Pirates of the Caribbean."

This is the first period film attempted by producer Jerry Bruckheimer, best known for special-effects extravaganzas such as "The Rock" (1996) and "Con Air" (1997). He's delivered a good old-fashioned swashbuckler. Bruckheimer readily admits he loved old pirate films such as "Treasure Island"(1934), "Captain Blood" (1935) and "The Crimson Pirate" (1952), and he has created a film with the flavor and fun of those wonderful Hollywood classics.

Director Gore Verbinski, who hit it big with his last film -- the overrated but very creepy "The Ring" -- has done a fine job with all the color and spectacle. With "Pirates of the Caribbean," he's taken two different genres -- the supernatural ghost flick and an 18th-century high seas adventure story -- and blended them into rich stew that sweeps the audience away on a spirited journey.

Of course, it all begins with the blank page, and the picaresque plot by Academy Award-nominated screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (who did "Shrek") rings all the right bells and blows all the lively whistles. Huge battle scenes between lumbering wooden ships with cannons blazing, breathtaking sword fights, vicious pirates -- complete with peg legs and parrots -- a love story that must overcome one obstacle after another, and plenty of witty asides are all a part of this engaging mix.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" is one of the few must-see films of this summer.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" opens nationwide on Wednesday, July 9, and is rated PG-13.

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