“Pirates” actually sails on familiar “Tides” — Sean’s review

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Johnny Depp prepares to set sail for a fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” adventure, though several key cast and crew members from the original three films have dropped anchor. Gone are Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and director Gore Verbinski. In their place stands Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, director Rob Marshall and a whole lot of 3D imagery. Before you plunk down gold coins on “On Stranger Tides,” read our review of the fourth “Pirates” film, which opens everywhere today:

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (** out of 4)
No one – not Johnny Depp; not producer Jerry Bruckheimer; not Walt Disney, himself – would have predicted that we’d be discussing a fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” film when the studio gambled on a big-budget summer tentpole film based on a theme park ride.

The film easily could have sunk to the bottom of the box office like a treasure chest filled with doubloons. Instead, “Pirates” surfed on the tides of some inspired lunacy and earned boatloads of cash, even scoring Depp his first Oscar nomination for his gonzo portrayal of perennial drunk Capt. Jack Sparrow.

Sequels followed, and audiences continued to flock, even as the stories grew more convoluted and the effects overpowered the once-original characters. But this franchise, now sailing into its eighth year, clearly has a dedicated fan base, and it’s for them (and only them) that “On Stranger Tides” has been created.

It’s no secret that Depp modeled his Sparrow after legendary rocker and rumored pirate Keith Richards. The Rolling Stones rocker even cameos once again as Sparrow’s deceitful pirate pop. So it makes sense that the “Pirates” franchise now resembles a Rolling Stones concert in the year 2011. People show up expecting to hear the same old hits they’ve enjoyed for years, and the men on stage (or on the screen) are happy to play to the crowd without giving them any surprises. That’s “Tides.”

That’s “On Stranger Tides” in a nutshell. The band is back together – primarily Depp, Geoffrey Rush (as Barbossa), and the pirate-based costume and sets – but the rock-n-roll anarchy has faded away. The newcomers don’t amount to much more than session musicians asked to keep the same beats that drove the previous three films. While on a quest for the Fountain of Youth, Sparrow (Depp) encounters Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his lovely but lethal daughter, Angelica (Penelope Cruz). Their goal is to reach the fountain before a rival team of Spanish explorers, or else … well, or else nothing, really, but that doesn’t matter.

Along the way, newcomer Rob Marshall tosses in the requisite pirate tricks – prison breaks, sword fights, mutiny on the bounty — in an effort to keep the whole thing afloat. Making Depp the focal point of the adventure is a mistake; he’s much better lingering in the background where he can pick and choose his spots. But “Tides” masks its predictability with mermaids and zombies, which will have fans of the franchise shouting, “Yo ho!” This is one of those rare examples where dedicated “Pirates” freaks can add a full star to my rating and it wouldn’t change a thing.

Also opening:
Shane Dax Taylor’s “Bloodworth” (** out of 4 stars) continues to open in theaters, featuring the great Kris Kristofferson in a role that’s one part Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart” and two parts every character from a Flannery O’Connor short story or William Faulkner novel. And like O’Connor’s work, “Bloodworth” comes together like a compilation of dark, backwoods scenes. When a film’s supporting cast includes Val Kilmer, Dwight Yoakam, and Frances Conroy, it’s worth a look (even with Hilary Duff as the daughter of a wayward prostitute). But don’t expect coherence from “Bloodworth,” just plenty of mood and Southern atmosphere.

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