Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Directed by Gore Verbinski
Written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Starring Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Geoffrey Rush
Classification: NA

The movie blows, me hearties, but don't you dare miss it. Sure, I know, in the normal course of events, you might well expect folks in my line of work to steer you away from the bad pictures and toward the better. But there's nothing normal about Pirates of the Caribbean. Why? Johnny Depp, that's why. So forget the film and check out the star, because there's a superlative to be witnessed here: This has gotta rank among the weirdest performances in the zany annals of the silver screen.

Actually, performance is hardly the word -- that would suggest depth and range and development, all of which Depp is certainly capable of delivering when the writers deign to offer him a script. But he must have taken one look at this baby and known instantly that none of the above applies. Which isn't surprising, given the wellspring in question. Seems this pair of scribblers turned their back on modern cinema's usual motherlode of inspiration -- the comic book -- and sought their muse in a hitherto untapped source: the Disneyland theme-park ride.

Now, I grant you, it may prove a prescient choice, it could be the wave of the future, spawning countless gems that ingenious critics are sure to hail as "a roller-coaster ride of a movie". However, on the evidence here, the bugs haven't quite been worked out yet. Ergo, no depth for Depp -- and certainly no range or development.

So what does our boy do? Well, he plays his pirate as a single note, struck over and over again. But this is no ordinary note -- nope, Depp hits the damn thing with a symphonic verve that's downright mesmerizing.

For starters, his teeth are gold-capped, his eyes are kohled, his goatee is braided, and his dreadlocked tresses glitter with enough beaded trinkets to open up a souvenir shop.

Yet that's just the look. Then there's the manner: totally fey, past androgynous. Finally, the accent: faintly English, slightly swish and drunkenly slurred, at least two sheets to the wind.

Add up the wacky components and, if you believe Depp, it owes a lot to Keith Richards on a more-or-less articulate day. Me, I thought I detected a further hint of Brando's foppish turn in Mutiny on the Bounty.

Either way, it's quite the bizarre bundle of parts, like the winning float in a Gay Pride parade -- the Caribbean pirate as limp-wristed lush. Depp is a movie onto himself, and you can't take your eyes off the guy.

A good thing, too, because there's no movie anywhere else. Now you might carp that Depp's singular portrayal has nothing to do with the plot or the theme, but that would assume there is a plot or a theme.

Apparently, these commodities are in short supply on Disneyland theme-park rides.

In their place, we get a pirate picture that occasionally morphs into a horror flick.

Somewhere between the swash and the buckle, it keeps sailing off into The Night of the Living Dead, featuring a shipload of skeletal swabbies who seem immune to anything so mundane as a cutlass through the rib cage. That doubtless explains the exorbitant running time of 135 minutes: When the nautical baddies are already dead, how in the good name of Captain Blood do you kill them? Anyway, while grappling with that conundrum, you might want to tear your peepers away from star central and spare a quick glance for newcomer Keira Knightley. She's the love interest, and the camera adores her, as would any red-blooded pirate (which pretty much counts out Depp, but leaves ample room for Orlando Bloom as the film's rapier-straight hottie). Over on the villainous side of the ledger, Geoffrey Rush is on hand and in good form, although, as one of the living deadheads, he's hampered by having to turn his performance over to the CGI team whenever the moon comes out.

About the pedestrian work of director Gore Verbinski, let's just say he's in the slavish employ of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and thereby whacks out the action with Jerry's trademark hammer of steel -- that is, with an abundance of noise and a paucity of style. How about campy humour?

Well, me scally got wagged once, although me timbers nary felt a shiver. But, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of chablis, there's always that weird and wonderful compensation.

For audiences adrift in summer's cinematic doldrums, Pirates of the Caribbean writes a new Law of the See: Every shallow clunker of a movie deserves a Depp-charge.

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