May 31, 2007

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Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (PG-13)
Johnny Depp yo ho ho hos thoughout nearly three hours of screaming, in-your-face adventuretainment in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, now the third in the series of movies based on a theme park ride.

As you’ll remember, we left the crew despondent over the death of Jack Sparrow (Depp), the Hunter S. Thompson of pirates. In an attempt to get him back, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), voodoo priestess Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) and the back from the dead Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) decide to take their fear and loathing to Davy Jones’ locker, a sort of purgatory of full of lost souls and sand. After a lot of quipping and fighting the gang is eventually reunited and heads to a meeting of the pirate lords. Seems the looting and pillaging crowd has more to worry about than just other pirates — the East India Trading Company and its British army protectors now hold the leash to Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and his fast and terrifying ship the Flying Dutchman (filled, you’ll remember, with doomed half-dead pirates who are, like Davy, half man half fish).

Fishmen-imposed law and order is, naturally, only part of the problem. There are also curses of a sort (Davy Jones’ fish condition, an imprisoned goddess named Calypso), schemes (Jack, you’ll remember, is forever losing his ship, the Black Pearl; the pirates attempt to crown a pirate king), rescue attempts (Will’s dad is one of the fishmen on the Dutchman) and romance (will those crazy kids Will and Elizabeth ever be able to get together?). There seem to be enough plots here for three movies and, I suppose, we can be grateful that we didn’t actually get three movies even if it means we have to sit through one jumbly one.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was goofily entertaining, with its lameness balanced out by the fact that the actors were clearly having so much fun. Rush and Depp in particular seemed absolutely giddy at the prospect of being paid to be this silly. By Dead Man’s Chest, the franchise was taking itself more seriously and a lot of the crazy what-the-hell-ness had gone out of it. In At World’s End, the story has turned serious, billion-dollar-blockbuster serious. We get our romance, our action, our monkey jokes, our pratfalls and our sword-fighting handed to us in perfectly measured portions — like the brownie, mashed-potato and corn components of the Hungry Man frozen dinner. There is no room for variation, no room for giddy. The movie is so busy screaming it never has time to give us the smirk and the elbow nudge we really want. (The romance, for example, that’s supposed to give the movie a bit of its heart is so overly contrived that by the time that storyline heats up again its almost hard to remember why — or if — I ever cared.) A multitude of characters, including ones played by Chow Yun-Fat and Keith Richards, strut into frame but never really leave much of an impression.

For all that, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is a big loud movie full of big loud scenes and the occasional big loud laugh, usually due to some bit of tomfoolery by Depp. It’s lucky the series has him — he’s behind about 90 percent of what’s worth watching in this movie (scenes of him talking to many copies of himself are among the movie’s funniest). And while I never once felt the kind of roller coaster “weee!” that you want from a popcorn movie, At World’s End really does seek desperately to please you (even offering some closure for the folks that stick around for the scene at the end of the credits). So, yes, very funny, Johnny Depp. But please, let this be the last time. C+

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence and some frightening images. Directed by Gore Verbinski and written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (based on characters by Elliott, Rossio, Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is two hours and 45 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.