Still riding the wave
The modestly entertaining fourth “Pirates” installment finds Capt. Jack Sparrow chasing the mythical fountain of youth.
Johnny Depp returns as Sparrow, his birdlike head bobbing as he either scans the horizon for shiny objects, or simply suffers the effects of ADD. His oddly gesticulating arms are rarely in sync with the pirate’s half-drunken swagger. It’s an amusing collection of characteristics that still entertain though Depp fails to add anything new. Sparrow is as he ever was, and I suspect, he ever shall be.
When we meet him this time, Sparrow remains optimistic despite the loss of his ship and unwanted attention from British authorities, so he is intrigued when, while looking for his next ride to sea he learns that someone is using his name to crew a sailing vessel. Further investigation leads Sparrow to Angelica (Penelope Cruz), a feisty lass ripe with “Espanishness.” They share a bumpy history, disagreeing about why the are now they now frenemies.
Angelica entices Sparrow aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge, an intimidating ship given the large skeleton serving as its masthead. The ship’s captain, Pirate Blackbeard, tolerates Sparrow only for his supposed ability to locate the fountain of youth. Played by Ian McShane, Blackbeard’s silken voice issues from a fount of honeyed evil. His zombified overseers are strongmen, cruelly whipping the crew to win the race against both Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and a third vessel on a mission for the Spanish King.
Director Rob Marshall dials back the CGI effects in order to focus on his four principal characters. Sadly, they have little to do other than bicker and attempt to one-up each other, battling a script that routinely fails to deliver sufficiently witty quips. The plot is remarkably slight given the 130 minute runtime, resulting in overlong sequences that struggle to maintain their forward momentum.
The crew’s encounter with mermaids is a highlight, showcasing beautiful creatures with a frightening agenda of their own. After one is captured (played by Astrid Berges-Frisbey), a subplot follows her attraction to a young missionary (Sam Claflin) obviously smitten with her.
Cruz is the first female character to hold her own against Sparrow, thanks to lots of attitude and clipped dialog providing nice counterpoint to his loopy line delivery. Sparrow’s eccentricities may be fun to watch, but his shallow disregard for others, and unfettered love of treasure, make it impossible to invest in his fate. Not that such details matter to Disney, as it spins its ride-turned-movie for every nickel and then some. Though Depp has expressed waning interest in the franchise, following an opening weekend gross in excess of $90 million, there’s plenty of buried treasure yet to be unearthed.