Rated PG13/127 min.
After taking on an army of skeletal pirates, defeating the Kraken and overcoming an enemy with a living calamari on his face, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is back. This time, he’s teamed up with a fellow pirate and former lover (Penelope Cruz) on a quest to find Ponce De Leon’s Fountain of Youth.
In the midst of this lively but needless fourth installment, I found myself wondering how old Uncle Walt would have felt about Mickey Mouse being supplanted by an alcoholic pirate.
Sparrow is only a few benders and a can of eye-liner away from going full Charlie Sheen, but we love him anyway—in no small part because Depp still completely owns the role. But even Depp’s limitless innovation and deadpan delivery can only carry things so far; once again he’s stuck in an over-plotted sequel crammed with too many characters.
Cruz is a sensational actress in Spanish films but has been typecast in American movies as the hot chick with the sexy accent. That’s all she’s given here. Geoffrey Rush is back and mugs shamelessly, though at least he’s having fun. Ditto Keith Richards—who pops up again as Captain Jack’s dad—and a memorably randy Dame Judi Dench. Ian McShane adds bluster as Blackbeard the Pirate, but even his considerable presence doesn’t leave a big impression.
For about an hour, the film is adequate and intermittently exciting. But after the larger-than-life set pieces in the previous installments, all the swashbuckling feels been-there, slashed-that. Once we get to the Fountain of Youth, the screenwriters officially run out of ideas.
There are a few 3-D jolts, with swords and sea monsters leaping right at you, yet the glasses still make the screen too dark. You can definitely tell the bits that were filmed in Hawaii—after a bunch of run-down looking sets, the bursts of true paradise stand out.
The first Pirates film worked because it never forgot it was a comedy. The three sequels—and particularly this one—pile on the spectacle but drown out the wackiness and whimsy. Die-hard fans may find a bit of buried treasure, but for the rest of us it’s yo-so-so.