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Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is bemoaning the loss of his ship the Black Pearl and looking for adventure when he learns of another Jack Sparrow recruiting men for a ship. Intrigued and interested, he investigates and soon crosses paths with Angelica (Penelope Cruz), a woman from his past whose memories of Jack are not 100 per cent benevolent, especially when she forces him aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge, the ship of the formidable pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Her goal is to find the fabled Fountain of Youth - with Jack's help. But Barbarossa (Geoffrey Rush) is also on the trail, wanting his revenge on Blackbeard, while the Spanish navy is chasing all of them.

Review by Louise Keller:
With his theatrical demeanour, sharp wit, dreadlocks, black kohl eyeliner and glistening gold teeth, Johnny Depp's defining characterisation of the colourful and mischievous Captain Jack Sparrow has been the stunning masthead of the popular pirate ship adventure franchise that began in 2003. The 2005 sequel was a knockout but the 2009 film was interminable, with more plot lines than pirates. Depp's Sparrow is as compelling as ever in this fourth film, but I suspect it is the lure of the gold from the audience at large that producer Jerry Bruckheimer is eager to extract. Perhaps director Gore Verbinski saw the writing on the wall and decided to sit this one out, leaving Chicago director Rob Marshall to replace him.

So what's wrong with On Stranger Tides? Simply put, the potency of the film's vibrant characters brought to life by a splendid cast drowns in a convoluted, overlong plot, leaving us feeling as though we have witnessed fantastic film craft with extraordinarily detailed production design and potent music score, but the story is rather boring and our emotional journey is left wanting.

The storyline includes a quest for the fountain of youth, a prophecy and a mutiny while the themes incorporate revenge, greed and adventure for adventure's sake. After all, isn't that what being a pirate is all about? (In the movies, at any rate.) There are daring escapes, swash-buckle and swordplay, a hint of romance, set in dense, lush jungles, at sea, on beaches and in early 18th century England, where the film begins in a lengthy segment that tries desperately to put far too much into it. I am talking about cream puffs, chandeliers, handcuffs and flaming coal trucks used for a quick escape.

The sequence when a shoal of alluring mermaids appears intent on enticing the sailors to their doom is one of the film's highlights. Shot above and below water, we are bewitched by the beauty of the gorgeous sirens with long tresses as their luminous and delicately scaled golden tails swish seductively. Geoffrey Rush is unequivocally wonderful as the peg-legged Barbossa, who is out for revenge and Penelope Cruz is an attractive addition as the Woman from Seville, although it is easy to find holes in the premise of her role as Jack Sparrow's former love and daughter of the evil, unredeemable Blackbeard (Ian McShane). The scenes between Depp and Cruz are fiery and reasonably entertaining but it is Astrid Berges-Frisbey as the vulnerable mermaid Syrena, whose relationship with the staunch missionary Philip (Sam Claflin) grabs our attention.

There is no shortage of witty lines, like the throwaway when Sparrow asks Barbossa 'You don't have termites, do you?' referring to his wooden leg, when they are about to venture into the jungle together. One of my favourite moments is Keith Richard's cameo as Sparrow's father, who responds cynically to his son's question if he has visited the fountain of youth. Even before uttering the words 'Does this face look as though it's been there?' we chuckle as we see his wrinkle-ravaged face from the shadows. This scene is beautifully directed and conceived.

The production design is stunning, although the consistent dark look of the film has a sameness about it that eventually numbed my senses. I also question the use of 3D, which seems to be the vogue these days for all films, whether appropriate or not. Wearing 3D glasses for the duration of a film that runs well over two hours, when the ensuing rewards are slight is rather tedious. Depp however, breezes through it all unscathed; after all his Jack Sparrow creation is the pirate from our dreams and one we cannot help but adore.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Long-tailed mermaids with vampiric leanings and flying abilities, self-operating ship's ropes, the possibility of a fountain of youth where lives can be swapped for death and the rich settings of a fantasy world from history are the best ingredients of this fourth adventure with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), the one legged Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Bluebeard (Ian McShane) and the woman who may or may not be his daughter, Angelica (Penelope Cruz).

It begins in London where Jack is captured by the soldiers of King George II (Richard Griffiths playing fat aristocrat with relish), a spectacular affair involving a table laden with food and the establishment of the purpose of the journey - the location of the Fountain of Youth, for which Jack has managed to get a map. We are drawn into the story with bravura design and fast action, and follow Jack as he makes his escape only to end up shanghaied aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge.

So far so good, but the screenplay begins to bloat with a growing payload of material, as did PC3; admittedly, this is not as messy, nor quite as long (but close) and there are occasional moments of fun between the equivalents of hair extensions in the script . . . very occasional.

We quickly find ourselves in the court of Spain's King Ferdinand (Sebastian Armesto) who sends his navy after the fabled fountain of youth. Barbossa is also on the case. That's all fine in theory, but the audience is jerked back and forth, always stopping for some piece of establishing information.

Penelope Cruz is the only lead who plays it straight; she is gorgeous, talented, loveable and complex, but she plays Angelica who is only half of those things. Her character seems to have been written by the writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio during a feud, each pulling in different directions. This tends to be the film's tonal signature: it's called the kitchen sink syndrome, in which farce and escapism sit side by uncomfortable side with odd moments of human drama, adventure and sheer silliness.

This is most in evidence with the beautiful mermaids, who are depicted as savage sailor killers on the outside. Oh, except for one ... the one with whom the Christian missionary Philip (Sam Claflin) falls in love. This is a poor attempt at a romantic subplot which has to make up for the totally un-romantic Jack & Angelica relationship.

The kitchen sink also contains Judi Dench in a single, ridiculous scene in a coach, through which Jack is making his escape (one of many). It's embarrassing. But it's a good name in the credits, as is the woefully underused Keith Richards.

Ian McShane, on the other hand, steals the show with a Blackbeard, deserving of better things; he matches Geoffrey Rush in the carbuncled pirate figure stakes.

Production designer John Myhre and composer Hans Zimmer are the most enduring stars of this buckled swash, each contributing more than the writers and director Rob Marshall (of Chicago fame) deserve. Myhre's work ranges from the Royal to the lowly, from Regal feast to the pirate ships whose environment is perhaps best described as rustic in extremis.

But for all the anticipation, the fountain of youth is a bit of a letdown; it's expansive, but too clever for its own good, neither 'fairy story' nor 'robust stone-age' but a clunky mix of both.

Once upon a tide in the Caribbean, pirates plied their trade with clear ambitions to rob passing ships of anything valuable. This franchise of movies seems intent on robbing its own treasure chest of anything valuable, dabbling in magicalism and getting confused about what sort of entertainment it wants to offer.
First published in the Sun-Herald

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(Interview will be published on May 22)

(US, 2011)

CAST: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Keith Richards, Gemma Ward, Judi Dench, Sam Claflin, Richard Griffiths

PRODUCER: Jerry Bruckheimer

DIRECTOR: Rob Marshall

SCRIPT: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio


EDITOR: David Brenner, Michael Kahn, Wyatt Smith

MUSIC: Hans Zimmer


RUNNING TIME: 137 minutes



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