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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

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Part 4: Jack goes coasting.

Pirates 4 review

There are two highly amusing Freudian slips on the chat track for Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

“We wanted this opening action sequence to jump-start the movie and give it a real inertia,” says director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine). Oops. And later, “The narrative simplicity of the race for the Fountain of Youth was really helpful with the inertia of the film.” Oops again.

Credit where credit’s due, though. Pirates 4 is a sinewy chord of narrative cohesion compared to the indigestible bloat of Gore Verbinski’s Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End.

Marshall admits he was swimming against the mega-tentpole tide trying to keep the story afloat. (Although when you’re surrendering story time to the ho-hummery of palm-tree escapes and rapier-scraps among spurting kegs, it’s a losing battle.)

But that’s as controversial as Marshall gets on a gushy commentary alongside exec producer John DeLuca, in which everything and everyone is “amazing”, “inspiring” and “so, so fun”. Shame the on-set love-in didn’t generate a better fi lm. (Or disc, for that matter – extras are suspiciously thin.)

As for series mainstay Johnny Depp, he has the two men gurgling with glee at every eye roll and nose wrinkle (“He’s a renaissance man,” coos DeLuca. “I’m sure he could do Shakespeare”). But this is his least rewarding – and best paid – turn as Jack Sparrow.

Bringing Depp’s jester front and centre defangs his anarchic buffoonery – the debauched danger man Disney almost fired at the franchise’s beginning has morphed into a saccharine, family-friendly clown.

New faces fail to ease Depp’s burden. Penélope Cruz is an enticing addition mired in a ‘spitfire’ rut as Sparrow’s squabbling ex/adversary. Ian McShane’s Blackbeard promises delicious menace only to wilt into insignificance. And Sam Claflin’s missionary and Astrid Berges-Frisbey’s mermaid are yoof-demographic tack-ons.

Bar a scary mermaid attack, the ‘race’ to the Fountain of Youth has all the thrill of a stroll down to Sainsbury’s, leaving most of Tides’ pleasures to come in the opening London-set gallop: Richard Griffiths’ King George, ornate production design, a game British dame and a bracing coach chase.

Midway through the action, former foes Depp and Geoffrey Rush (back for a fourth go-around as Barbossa) lapse into a Bob Hope/Bing Crosby double act that gives away the old-fashioned game Marshall is trying to play to rid the series of its overblown, nonsensical stench.

But if the filmmaker was meant to inject a new sense of vigour into the loot-raking adventures, he’s merely dragged it deeper into the seabed of self-parody. Also, someone really needs to buy him a dictionary.

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