<strong>AVAST!</strong> Johnny Depp and Penélope Cruz maraud through the mire that is <em>Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides</em>.

There’s a feeling of clumsy ineptness that sets in from the beginning of this fourth film in the ever-declining franchise. It opens with two men who haul up a body while fishing in an open boat. Turning it over, the men bend close to see the strangely un-decayed remains. Then guess what happens? Yep, you’re entirely right. The rest of the film equally fails to thrill when it most tries to excite.

Maybe it’s the dark color that 3-D glasses impart, though it’s likely director Rob Marshall’s cinematic gracelessness that makes the film seem too long for even a fountain of youth to save. It’s like the idea of an action film without real feeling: yo ho hum.

Marshall crosscuts between scenes, but he’s often going from dull to predictable. Johnny Depp’s masterly carriage-jumping chase through the streets of London aside, the rest of the escapades seem dispirited. Jack Sparrow (Depp) and Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) fight inside a precariously tipping shipwreck, and finally we prepare for thrill and spills. Unfortunately, the whole thing ends in a few minutes with a decision to cooperate. Is this a pirate film or Sesame Street? Come to think of it, this film is nowhere near as exciting as Muppet Treasure Island.

What’s surprising about bad fight choreography here is that Marshall directed big Broadway musicals before he made his Hollywood bones with the god-awful but award-winning Chicago. But like the Pirates films, he’s been since heading downhill inexorably, too—Memoirs of a Geisha and Nine were marked by glowing moments and hours of tedium. He’s visual but not exciting—and this is dueling brawls not pas de deux, though combining those two worlds must have seemed an intriguing possibility.

Unfortunately for all of us, the film leaves its back door open for yet another sequel in a saga that, like Star Wars, would have been better off as a one-shot. The more we see, the less is there, and we should have known this earlier, me hearties. An epic film based on a theme-park ride. What were we thinking?


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