The notion of a movie based on a theme-park ride is almost as laughable as the rare movie based on a song. But the only thing that doesn’t work about Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl is its clunky, colon-addled title.
Brisk, exciting and, at times, wildly funny, Pirates wisely channels blockbusters of old that didn’t have the benefit of more-more-more effects or angst-filled, daddy-didn’t-love-me plotlines.
That’s not to say it’s not liberal with its computer-generated effects or patriarchal plotline. But instead of dwelling on those, it relies on the charm of its chivalry and swashbuckling as well as one of Johnny Depp’s best performances yet.
With braided beard, dreadlocked hair and mascara Tammy Faye Baker would consider overkill, Depp owns the role of scalawag Captain Jack Sparrow and, for the most part, the movie.
As a flighty captain who can’t even get respect on the gallows, Depp moves with a disaffected, almost drunken, sashay and gets as many laughs when moving his hands as he does when moving his mouth.
His irate reaction to the burning of a rum cache alone is worth the price of admission. He works with the same top-drawer effortlessness that Mandy Patinkin did in his similar role in The Princess Bride.
Jack’s entrance is grand, sashaying from the bow of a sinking ship directly onto the dock of Port Royal, where the intolerance for pirates is best displayed by bones of past thieves left hanging.
He is the antithesis of suave, a wise character move, as we get the sense his adventures, however vast they might be, all came at the hand of luck and chance rather than pirating expertise. So begins this tale, when a too-tight corset cuts off the breath of Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), sends her falling off a precipice and inspires Jack to rescue her.
Despite saving the town governor’s daughter, Jack is nonetheless jailed by virtue of his pirate job. But there are bigger problems. When it hit the water, the mysterious gold chain Elizabeth wears around her neck sent out a signal to the pirates aboard the infamous Black Pearl.
Caught between this life and the afterlife, these pirates turn into skeletons when the moonlight hits them. Led by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) pillage, plunder, rifle and loot Port Royal, kidnapping Elizabeth in the process. It seems her gold — and her blood — are the keys to lifting their curse.
Lowly blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), who has long kept his love for Elizabeth to himself, breaks Jack out of prison and strikes a deal to save Elizabeth from the pirates’ clutches.
At the outset, the prospect of a two-and-a-half-hour pirate movie seems like producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s excessive excuse to provide a movie as long as the budget is big.
But Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio’s terrific script is perfectly paced without any dull moments, balancing mid-sea gunwale battles, swordfights and sneak attacks with plenty of quick quips and twists (particularly, a great one involving Jack in the film’s climax).
The duo also gets humorous mileage out of Barbossa’s loyal monkey (a capuchin who gives the best animal performance of the year), the pirate code and the negotiation concept of parley.
Amid all the action sequences, director Gore Verbinski hasn’t had his keen visual eye clamped shut. The rampaging fights in the backgrounds of scenes on the pirate-populated isle of Tortuga are clever side gags, and the sight of the Black Pearl pirates storming forth for battle on the sea floor is a memorably eerie one.
In a summer of black sheep and bad-egg blockbusters, Pirates of the Caribbean is the real deal, an endlessly enjoyable far cry from much of this summer’s yo-ho-hum selection.