Same Old Tide

Never has a “Pirates” movie been so aptly titled — “strange” is a fitting description for the fourth part of the mega-franchise.

After two sibling installments that largely resembled the drunken, incoher- ent mutterings of the series’ much beloved pirate-hero, the movie — divested of two of its three protagonists (Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann), stripped of its three-time director (Gore Verbinski) and stacked with ample cleavage appearances by the sexed-up Penelope Cruz (Yo ho ho!) — has finally tacked down what’s eluded the series since its “Black Pearl” days: A plot (and boobs — sorry, Keira).

It’s a blissfully simplistic one, too — Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) et al race to reach the Fountain of Youth, with plenty of swashbuckling and booze along the way (Read: no mounds of crabs while Sparrow acid trips on some desert island).

But what “On Stranger Tides” offers in the way of coherency unfortunately sacrifices in ingenuity — and while the plot remains linear, remnants of the confusion of previous installments still remain.

Cruz’s Angelica is the same take-no-shit bad girl persona that Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann pio- neered in the first three films (but now in Spanish!). But her character, save for her fierce devotion to her father and prowess with a sword, is vanilla, and her chemistry with Depp is equally painful to watch — the two exchange lines with an uninterested, monotonous tone as they parry enemies with dead-catlike reflexes. The relationship, like most other aspects of the film, is sluggish and painfully formulaic.

Likewise, a “Twilight”-esque romance that blooms in the midst of the fray between a merwoman and a religious man is as dull as it is nauseating: The couple is hopelessly enamored after only spending a few short hours in one another’s company.

Worse, an inexplicable guest-cameo by Keith Richards as Sparrow’s father adds to the confusion, as he growls his lines with noncommittal apathy that’s become the trademark of the “Pirates” series, referring to his son by the cringe-worthy pet-name “Jackie.” And even Depp — undoubtedly the series’ biggest fan — seems bored, staggering through the movie’s endless two hours with the same drunken drawl that was, really, only refreshingly humorous the first time around.

Perhaps the most confusing aspect of the film was the decision to release it in 3-D. Save the first few minutes where your eyes adjust to the glasses, the effect is no different than its 2-D counterpart, making it a total wash. The only reminder of the graphics teams’ efforts is the glasses imprint on your temples post-viewing.
It seems the only one taking the franchise seriously anymore (and yes, that includes “Pirates” fans) is Geoffrey Rush. His unpredictability and enthusiasm as a character thrice- reprieved are the only remnants of the Disney classic that almost was; even Depp is more vivacious and jaunty in the scenes they share.

But Rush’s invigorating presence isn’t powerful enough to forgive the errors and blatant laziness displayed by the rest of the cast and crew, and certainly not enough to forgive the archetypal plotline. “On Stranger Tides” has proved, (hopefully defini- tively) that the “Pirates” series’ premise — like Richards’ weathered, crusty visage — is tired and out of date. (C-)

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