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PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLDS END (*˝)

Movie Review by: Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Written by: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Jay Wolpert
Starring:
Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom
Running time: 165 minutes Released: 05/25/07
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence and some frightening images.
"...a sunken, moribund wreck of a movie housing no treasures whatever."
To speak nautically, the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” was a moderately spiffy vessel for something cobbled together from an amusement park ride, buoyed by Johnny Depp’s engagingly droll performance as the rogue Jack Sparrow. By contrast the sequel, “Dead Man’s Chest,” was a creaky, worm-eaten thing, encrusted with narrative barnacles and weighed down by the dutiful quality of Depp’s repeat turn.

The downward spiral continues with the third installment, “At World’s End,” a sunken, moribund wreck of a movie housing no treasures whatever. It will doubtless repeat the inexplicable box office success of its predecessor—testimony to the lemming-like proclivity of today’s audiences not only to rush to even the worst retreads but in some cases to do so repeatedly. But it’s a convoluted, ponderous, joyless spectacle whose lack of charm is matched only by its incoherence. Why Gore Verbinski would have chosen to follow the goofy wildness of the first picture and the overstuffed slapstick of the second with such a puffed-up (an unconscionable 167 minutes), plodding, largely poker-faced finale is hard to fathom; it seems he’s now taking this franchise much too seriously. What’s clear is that though the movie’s final joke has to do with agelessness, the series itself is at death’s door.

The studio has asked critics not to reveal details of the plot in their reviews—a request that’s easy to accede to, since the picture’s story arc is pretty much incomprehensible. It basically has to do with the evil Lord Beckett’s (Tom Hollander) plan to sweep piracy from the Caribbean to protect the interests of his West India Company, now with the connivance of tentacle-faced Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), who’s in his thrall, and the Flying Dutchman. (The movie begins with a really peculiar sequence in which Beckett is seen summarily executing everybody with connections to the pirates, including a sad-faced child—suspending all civil rights in the process. This may be intended as a critical allusion to current U.S. policy against modern “terrorists,” and if so the makers can only hope most American viewers won’t notice and take umbrage.)

On the other side are the recently resuscitated Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and the romantically linked team of Elizabeth and Will (Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom), who make their way—via a stratagem that involves Singapore pirate chief Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat)—to Jones’ Locker to retrieve the deceased Jack Sparrow (Depp) and then bring all the pirate bands together in a coalition against Beckett. Also involved are an assortment of supporting characters, including a sea goddess called Calypso, the voodoo enchantress Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris), Will’s father Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) who’s a member of Jones’s enslaved and mutated crew, Sparrow’s aide-de-camp Gibbs (Kevin R. McNally), Elizabeth’s old beau Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport), several sets of comic-relief players (most notably Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Cook as the bedraggled Pintel and Ragetti), a monkey, and a slew of other pirate captains, one of them Teague, who turns out to be Sparrow’s father and, as played by Keith Richards, is about as simian as the real thing.

The ways in which all these characters—and a small army of additional ones—deal with one another consist of treachery piled upon duplicity. Each person has his or her own secretive agenda, and joins with foes or turns on allies for reasons it would take Brainiac to decipher and keep track of. At one point a character inquires of Sparrow, “Do you think he plans it all out, or just makes it up as he goes along?” One might ask the same question not only about him, but also of scripters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and every character they’ve created.

But however the writers work, the result is a mishmash, a jumbled chain of crosses that aren’t just double and triple but quadruple and quintuple. The puzzle might be fun to play if it wound up anywhere interesting, but it doesn’t. And the journey there is mostly glum and sluggish—not to mention overly gruesome and violent for the younger set. To be sure, the cinematography is sumptuous, if often dark—there are some lovely shots during the trip to Davy Jones’s Locker through arctic wastes and under star-filled skies, for example, and a couple of surrealistic sequences involving multiple Sparrows are visually imaginative, even if they’re oddly humorless (a problem with the entire picture) and would be more appropriate in a film that might be nominated for a foreign-language Oscar than this one. But for the most part the effects are curiously unimpressive this time around, and the score by Hans Zimmer that accompanies them the sheerest bombast.

As to the actors, they’re trapped on a sinking vessel. Depp shows a few moments of his erstwhile zest, but he’s mostly repeating old tricks, an even paler shadow of his turn in “Curse” than in “Chest.” (It doesn’t help that Elliott and Rossio haven’t supplied him with many witty lines.) Watching Bloom and Knightley go through their paces, one might wonder whether a more colorless pair of lovebirds have ever graced the screen. And Rush mugs and rasps his way through a part that’s just a standard-issue pirate caricature, parrot and all. The rest are just wasted—including Nighy, still encased in his heavy Jones makeup, and Chow, who’s dispatched after just a few dreary scenes. At least Hollander can content himself with a ludicrously overblown farewell moment (in slow-motion that seems positively De Palma-esque), although for most of the movie he’s required to exhibit nothing beyond pursed lips and a gentleman’s sneer. And then there’s that little monkey, which serves the same function here that cute little pooches do in many movies, in a plethora of reaction shots that are supposed to make us smile. By the fifth or sixth appearance they’ll probably make you grimace instead.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" is a study in detached tedium. It's all flash and fury and zero substance. If this does turn out to be series finale, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" ends with a pitiful whimper. Good riddance.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLDS END © 2007 Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2007 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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