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Spoiling the Ship for a Ha'p'orth of Tar

MOVIE REVIEW
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

Pirates-of-the-caribbean-on-stranger-tides-johnny-depp-penélope-cruz-ian mcshane
Peter Mountain/Disney Enterprises

The “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise returns with its fourth installment “On Stranger Tides” without director Gore Verbinski or stars Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley onboard. In their place we have Rob Marshall at the helm and Penélope Cruz and Ian McShane joining veterans Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush and Kevin McNally. Although screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio — who scripted the first three installments — are also back, “On Stranger Tides” is a bit of a, well, shipwreck.

The problem is that Messrs. Elliott and Rossio are trying way too hard to up the stakes by overstuffing the film with multiple plotlines, and unfortunately most of them remain undeveloped. First, we have Ms. Cruz as Jack Sparrow’s (Mr. Depp) jilted old flame Angelica, who has been impersonating Jack in order to recruit a crew. She may or may not be the daughter of the notorious Blackbeard (Mr. McShane), who has his sights set on the fountain of youth. But Blackbeard and his crew are in a three-way race with Spanish and British royal envoys, the latter led by Barbossa (Mr. Rush), to be first to find the fountain. Meanwhile, Jack is on a thin plank, playing a game of double-agent with Blackbeard and Barbossa. As if you are not already drowning in a sea of plots, Messrs. Elliott and Rossio further muddy the waters with some deadly mermaids and a Christian missionary (Sam Claflin). But the screenwriters have given so few clues about the new characters and what make them tick, that moviegoers couldn’t care less about the outcome of this lesser-of-three-evils contest.

Mr. Marshall hasn’t turned the film into a garish drag show the way he did “Chicago,” “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Nine,” but he doesn’t exactly take full advantage of the open-sea setting and the 3-D format, either. In fact, “On Stranger Tides” is curiously short on sweeping aerial shots and gratuitous gimmicks that serve to emphasize the extra dimension. Visually, the film has nothing nearly as memorable as the army of skeletons marching underwater in “The Curse of the Black Pearl.” And with a filmography that also consists of “The Mexican” and “The Weather Man,” it’s not exactly as if Mr. Verbinski is some sort of visual genius who has set a high bar. The fact that Mr. Marshall can’t even measure up is more than a bit embarrassing.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES

Opens on May 20 in the United States and Britain.

Directed by Rob Marshall; written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, based on characters created by Mr. Elliott, Mr. Rossio, Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert, suggested by the novel by Tim Powers; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by David Brenner and Wyatt Smith; music by Hans Zimmer; production design by John Myhre; costumes by Penny Rose; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer; released by Walt Disney Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 7 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 12A by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Johnny Depp (Jack Sparrow), Penélope Cruz (Angelica), Geoffrey Rush (Barbossa), Ian McShane (Blackbeard), Kevin R. McNally (Joshamee Gibbs), Astrid Bergès-Frisbey (Syrena), Sam Claflin (Philip Swift), Richard Griffiths (King George), Judi Dench (Society Lady), Keith Richards (Captain Teague) and Stephen Graham (Scrum).

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