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EW review: 'Pirates' a Bermuda Triangle of bad

Arrrgh! Sequel a wild ride that leads nowhere

By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Entertainment Weekly

Johnny Depp gets in another fine mess in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."


Gore Verbinski
Johnny Depp

(Entertainment Weekly) -- I was wrong to be so harsh on "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" when it steamed into port three years ago.

The original is a thing of balletic grace, theatrical richness of character, and self-effacing economy of action when compared with the shapeless, weightless, endless "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." The sequel is a version 2.0 that, in its final minutes, portends a future 3.0 of such necessarily staggering, ostentatious extravagance as to bankrupt all but the most iron-walleted of Hollywood producers.

Yes indeed, "Pirates" 2.0 is a theme ride, if by ride you mean a hellish contraption into which a ticket holder is strapped, overstimulated but unsatisfied, and unable to disengage until the operator releases the restraining harness.

The barely intelligible plot hardly matters, except insofar as young sweethearts Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) are once again thwarted from, as they say in classic pirate movies, getting it on. This time what stands between the two photogenic romantic leads is bluster from a new villainous British prig-in-a-wig, some twitty adult who demands that Will do some impossible thing or another to earn his freedom.

Meanwhile, Jack (the louche weirdness now ratcheted up by the one-of-a-kind Mr. Depp so that jumpin' Jack is an exotic "Cage aux Folles" bird of even fancier lip twitches, wrist curls, and rouged feathers) owes a debt to the underworldly lord of the waterlogged, Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). And Jones commands a ship of dead fools disfigured with pulsating, curling, slimy goiters and squid-like protuberances.

This army of the deep suggests the very picture of ick by teen standards, conjured through the very fanciest of special effects; the clattering skeletons of the original "Pirates" look positively minimalist by comparison.

Anyway, as Jack, Will, and Elizabeth work cooperatively, the makers of "Dead Man's Chest" hurl obstacles in the trio's way with the tenacity -- and undifferentiated agitation -- of shipboard monkeys. Clash after calamity after jokey mishap ensues, with time enough for many of the original secondary players to cash their own paychecks.

But this is where the cheat between sensation and satisfaction comes in, a substitution only likely to become more commonplace as the "Pirates" franchise becomes the very model of modern studio brand extension.

Without character, where's the consequence? Without consequence, where's the joy? Without an artistic stake in eliciting joy (or sadness, or concern, or something other than a glazed giggle at Depp's finery), there's nothing to keep producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Gore Verbinski, and their screenwriting galleymates from piling on another big false ending, and another, and another, "Caribbean" without end, until a pummeled audience begs for a toilet break and, for mercy's sake, a real conclusion.

Discounting adrenaline rush, fright, nausea, and relief as evidence of dramatic effect, there are no consequences in a theme-park ride: You get on, you get jiggled, you get off. Maybe you even ask for another go-round, because it feels so good when the jiggling stops.

The difference is, a ride runs a few minutes, while "Dead Man's Chest" cranks for what feels like an infernal eternity.

EW Grade: D+

(This is an edited version of Lisa Schwarzbaum's original EW review. For the full review, click hereexternal link. To add your own comment, click here.external link)

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