Pirates:Stranger Tides ✮1/2

Pirate Drag! Savvy?

by Glenn Lovell

Jack’s back in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” this time as your Fountain of Youth tour guide. Abetting him in his quest are a number of old adversaries, including Captain Barbossa, and a couple of new ones, Blackbeard and his daughter Angelica, a former paramour played by Penelope Cruz, who makes her entrance in full-pirate drag.

Depp and Cruz: Adrift

But of course you’re back for Johnny Depp’s Cockney scalawag, Jack Sparrow. I’m sorry to report that what was once an inspired riff on the Stones’ Keith Richards, complete with flouncy gait and woozy delivery, has worn as thin as a tattered skull-and-crossbones. It doesn’t help that Richards returns as Sparrow’s father, Teague. When you’ve got the genuine article, why bother with a tired imitation, right? Depp, I’m sure, would second this. You can tell he’s bored with the role and the dreadful double-entendres. Hell-bent? “I’m just as bent as ever,” replies Jack. Later, Angelica asks, “How is it we can never meet without you pointing something at me.”

Since this is a PG-13 Disney production meant for family consumption, Jack and Angelica do more swashing than unbuckling here. There  is however, a naughty backstory, something to do with a nunnery in Seville that was mistaken one bawdy night for a brothel.

In place of the spirited rivalry between Jack and Will (Orlando Bloom) that carried us through the first three episodes, Jack crosses swords with Angelica, trades dagger stares with Blackbeard (a glum Ian McShane), and swaps good-natured quips with Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush again), who’s doing the king’s bidding. And King George (Richard Griffiths) wants to beat the Spanish to the Fountain of Youth.

Besides the secret map, which everyone seems to possess, there’s a secret ritual that calls for two chalices from Ponce de Leon’s ship and a tear from a mermaid. Since this is a Monty Python-like spoof of an old-fashioned adventure, rather than a proper quest-adventure a la “Jason and the Argonauts,” characters stumble upon important items in the most idiotic ways. As for those mermaids, they’re found in White Cap Bay and are definitely not of the benign persuasion.  They have razor-sharp teeth, cast seaweed nets like Spider-man, and, overall, are closer to Ulysses’ vixenish sirens.

That is, except for the one played by French beauty Astrid Berges-Frisbey. She flips in and out of the action as the plot demands and eventually hooks up with Bloom’s replacement, Sam Claflin. Claflin plays a “churchy” missionary who’s discovered tied to a mast. The demands of his nice-guy love interest role become more restricting as the story rolls, or rather slogs, along.

Released simultaneously in three versions ‒ 3D, IMAX and flat ‒ “On Stranger Tides,” directed by the unlikely Rob Marshall (“Chicago”), feels at once desperate to please and constrained by budget. There’s much swordplay backed by loud music (by Hans Zimmer) and, during the meltdown finale, a “Raiders of the Lost Ark”-inspired banshee, but nothing to compare to Davy Jones’ zombified pirates or the runaway watermill of the first two installments. Also, Depp and Cruz somehow outdo Depp and Jolie in the zero-chemistry department. We can’t fault them completely, however. Not even Tracy and Hepburn could do much with these exchanges. He: “You walk like a girl.” She: “You would know.”

Making matters worse: This segment clocks in at a butt-numbing two hours and 17 minutes. I started checking my watch half an hour in … and kept checking it at 20 minutes intervals. Never a good sign for what’s being pitched as robust family entertainment.

The always delightful Judi Dench stops by for an uncredited cameo as a randy dowager who calls to the retreating Jack, “Is THAT it?!”

Our sentiments exactly, Dame Judith.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES ✮1/2 With Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane. Directed by Rob Marshall; scripted by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio. 137 min. Rated: PG-13 (for battle violence and fright scenes that will be too intense for young children)

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