"Pirates (1)"
Cinema Signal:
The History of Pirates

. "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"

The real treasure in this chest is the one producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney are going to make off with in the form of boxoffice doubloons. In a sequel cunningly derived from the 654 million dollar worldwide success of the first Johny Depp starrer, no expense or effect has been spared to ensure a continuation of the comedic adventure. The only downside is that there's so much of it, considerably more than what's called for, a sign of overcovering its bets.

The formula of two swashbuckling dudes, a gorgeous lady, a half-dead evil tyrant with the power of the curse, a horrific sea dragon at his beck and call, and various characters and stratagems to support the brew, again works its magic for we who are starved for grand works of the imagination. It's only the wandering quality of it that rocks the boat. But despite many faults, it can't be declared a yawner. Oh, to own a mere 1% of its gross, net, or popcorn receipts.

The wobbly foundation on which the cruise steadies its course is a compass that isn't designed to point north but which some very serious people want very badly; a key that is the original for a drawing of it; and the chest that the key is designed to open.

When Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), his bride-to-be Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and, even, her father Governor Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce) are arrested and threatened with death by Lord Beckett (slimy Tom Hollander) representing the unscrupulous East India Trading Co. as though it were the State Department, young Turner is given a chance at a reprieve. All he's got to do is find the compass.

One thing leads to another as the search for the compass leads to its current owner, the slippery, morally-challenged Captain Jack Sparrow, him of the worthy ship, the Black Pearl. This is a ship whose crew repeatedly cries out to its captian for a heading. But, the jocular instrument in his hands doesn't allow the Captain to find much of one, leading us either astray, wandering the oceans, of by literary happenstance, right to the object of Sparrows's quest, to the dread Davy Jones (wretched and despicable Bill Nighy at the tope of his octupus-tentacled form) who holds Sparrow's destiny in his undead hands and Turner's father Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) in his hold.

All objects, in fact, point to Jones who seems to hold all the aces. The key dangles from his neck well hidden behind his beard of writing tentacles. But, this is because the chest it opens, buried on a spit of beach he can't set foot (or pegleg) on for another decade, holds the heart that keeps him half-alive.

In the quest for it, Elizabeth adds to the action by disguising herself as a member of the all-male crew and disporting herself well in the swordsmanship department. A major sequence that conjures up much colorful humor has Sparrow captured by a native tribe that considers him a god who must be burned over a roasting pit in corformity to their customs. Another visually extraordinary set piece of action has a three-way swordfight without an apparent end takeing place on a rotating runaway water wheel, a concept calling for considerable ingenuity. And, in the can-you-top this CGI department, not one attack on the Black Pearl by a giant and vicious octopus creature allied with Davey Jones beard. This monster is driven off by various stratagems of swordplay, cannon and gunpowder, but like any horror movie villain, keeps coming back.

There's been a lot of press about Johnny Depp's statement that he patterned his style and movements after Keith Richards. Maybe I don't know the 62-year old Stones' guitarist's style of movement well enough, but I do know Depp's, and this is all Depp. Maybe with a little too much mincing, much too little cleverness in dialogue, and a cartoonish quality in the style, but, the determination of sticking with the outrageous broadness of his insouciant charm and self-belief still works in the entertainment context and those who love this actor for all that won't find themselves too drunk with it... they'll probably hoist a toast to it. Despite the anchor of aimlessness in the narrative, it's probably his swashbuckling audacity that keeps the ship afloat.

And, besides the stamp of exquisite flare and beauty by the female vixen aboard, namely Knightley, and the takeover energy of Orlando Bloom who suddenly gives the orders around here, the creative treat in the episode is Nighy, who invests his evil half-monster with fascinating and appropriate rankness.

The surprise and amazement at Depp's audacious creation of Sparrow in the first film ("The Curse Of the Black Pearl") is decidedly swamped in excess here, as is the film overall, but a little seabird tells me it won't matter as far as its loyal following and their receipts are concerned. The sails of audience popularity are billowing in the winds of financial promise for this and it's planned 2nd sequel. What "Dead Man's Chest" lacks in originality compared to its predecessor is compensated for by sheer, masterfully executed excess. It just doesn't breathe the same air of originality.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Johnny Depp is Captain Jack Sparrow
Eh, voila! The chest is mine.
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