Yo ho, ho-hum, a pirate’s life

Times Staff Writer

In a rational world, a big-budget film inspired by an amusement park thrill ride wouldn’t have a great deal of trouble living up to its origins. But this is today’s Hollywood we’re talking about, and everything is not what it seems.

The Disneyland ride Pirates of the Caribbean is a considerable treat, a brisk and thrilling entertainment experience memorable years after the fact. As director Gore Verbinski takes pains to accurately point out, it is “ingrained in our collective psyche.”

Verbinski’s movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” loosely based on that ride, is not fated to be similarly enshrined. This noisy retread, a secondhand facsimile of a movie, is, except for the headache its boisterous sound level leaves you with, as forgettable as a bad day in the Disneyland parking lot.


The noise comes courtesy of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who is apparently mandated by secret covenant to supply each of his films, even ones set in the 18th century, with the kinds of massive explosions more reminiscent of the siege of Stalingrad than a pirate ship attack.

While writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio are best known for the impressive work they did in “Shrek” and “Aladdin,” they were the opposite of inspired here, alternating tired humor with a veritable checklist of lumpy pirate cliches like talking parrots and references to Davey Jones’ locker. I know it’s all supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but why isn’t anyone laughing?

Presiding over this cacophonous hubbub is filmmaker Verbinski, whose work on “Mouse Hunt” and “The Ring” have made him one of Hollywood’s favorite utility players, capable of middling work, neither embarrassing nor memorable, in any number of genres. While he’s far too slick to do anything objectionable, he also has trouble creating actual reasons to see films.

In fact, the only inducement “Pirates” provides for anyone to watch at all is Johnny Depp’s eccentric and quirkily amusing performance as temporarily unemployed pirate captain Jack Sparrow.

With piercing black eyes surrounded by kohl, beads in his hair, a beard with tiny braids and enough gold and platinum in his mouth to earn Dr. Rick Glassman, DDS, a credit for “Dental Special Effects for Johnny Depp,” the actor looks less the nautical outlaw than a thrift store refugee about to go clubbing in Hollywood. (Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones was Depp’s acknowledged inspiration.) But though his arch countercultural affect makes him come off as the least piratical of pirates, the captain is plenty good enough to get the job done.

Capt. Sparrow turns up in Port Royal, we gradually learn, looking for a way to catch up with his old ship, the Black Pearl, a vessel that has been taken from him by a mutinous crew led by the infamous Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), “a man so evil that hell itself spat him back.”

This gang, it turns out, have had a curse placed on them that turns them into the living dead, rascals whose bodies conveniently turn into computer-generated Industrial Light & Magic skeletons whenever they venture into the moonlight.

Oblivious to all of this are three of Port Royal’s handsomest young people, involved in a drama of their own. Comely Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), the governor’s daughter, is the romantic target of the boring but powerful Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport), while she herself has an eye for the terribly shy sword-maker Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), a lad she has known since childhood.

Circumstances conspire to place Elizabeth in the power of Barbossa and his men, where she wears the kind of bodice-ripper negligees that would have horrified the sporty character the actress played in “Bend It Like Beckham.” Similarly Bloom, fearless in “The Lord of the Rings,” gets to play someone who is convincing both as a timid soul and a hero.

Though these leads are appealing, they are defeated by this thudding bulldozer of a film that spends far too much time on its huge supporting cast of pirates (nowhere near as entertaining as everyone assumes) and on bloated adventure set pieces that redound to no one’s credit. Released just too late for the Fourth of July, this is, fittingly, a would-be firecracker that just doesn’t go off.


‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl’

MPAA rating: PG-13, for action adventure/violence

Times guidelines: More grotesque than smallest viewers may appreciate

Johnny Depp...Jack Sparrow

Geoffrey Rush...Barbossa

Orlando Bloom...Will Turner

Keira Knightley...Elizabeth Swann

Jack Davenport...Norrington

Jonathan Pryce...Governor Swann

A Jerry Bruckheimer Films production, released by Walt Disney Pictures. Director Gore Verbinski. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Executive producers Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Bruce Hendricks, Paul Deason. Screenplay Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio. Screen story by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert, based on Walt Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski. Editors Craig Wood, Stephen Rivkin, Arthur Schmidt. Costume design Penny Rose. Music Klaus Badelt. Production design Brian Morris. Supervising art director Derek R. Hill. Set decorator Larry Dias. Running time: 2 hours, 13 minutes.

In general release.