I didn't think the day would come when Johnny Depp would make a crappy movie just for the money, but July 7, 2006, is a day that will live in cinematic infamy. The original was a big, dumb Jerry Bruckheimer F/X joyride, a disposable free-for-all of high-seas hokum, but Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow stood apart from the Hollywood nonsense. His portrayal was yet another in a long list of memorable, one-of-a-kind creations. In the second installment, however, the novelty, energy, color and charm have escaped from the character like air from an inflatable pirate doll.
It's been a dismal summer for big comedies, and the second Pirates of the Caribbean has only made it worse. Sure, Gore Verbinski's follow-up to the 2003 hit is guaranteed to bring in mountains of booty, but I think we all know that good box office correlates less and less with a good time at the Cineplex.
If you are over the age of, say, 12, do not plan on laughing your head, ass or any other portion of your anatomy off at this picture. For that matter, even youngsters will be lucky to laugh the nail of their pinky toe off, and even that will hinge on excessive consumption of sugar.
The plot, such as it is, consists of an incomprehensible tangle of threads. Some are merely dull, others are extraneous to the story. All do little more than fill screen space and kill running time, serving as a bridge between the first installment and a third, which will follow next year. The characters played by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are about to be married as the film opens. Instead, they are arrested by a pouty twit (Tim Hollander) in upper management with the East India Trading Company. No explanation for the businessman's life-and-death authority.
Shortly thereafter, said twit summons Bloom into his office and offers to pardon him and his betrothed on the condition that he track down Sparrow, relieve him of his compass and bring it to him. No explanation for what he intends to do with it.
Meanwhile, far away at sea, Sparrow is engaged with his crew in the first of the movie's many pointless scenes. The men complain that it's been a very long time since they directed their buccaneer energies toward the acquisition of treasure, and wonder what the captain has planned for their next mission. Sparrow announces that he has in mind a quest for something more desirable than mere doubloons and produces a scrap of cloth bearing the sketch of a key. Much tedious wordplay ensues, and finally it is revealed that their mission is to find the key that unlocks the chest containing not treasure but the still-thumping heart of Davy Jones.
The Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) thread in Dead Man's Chest has something to do with a blood debt Sparrow owes to the famously deceased sailor. No explanation for how the debt was incurred, how Jones can be dead and have a still-beating heart, and how finding a key is supposed to help Sparrow locate the hidden chest it unlocks. All we know for sure is that Jones and his zombie-like shipmates have spent so much time on the Flying Dutchman that they are slowly morphing into half-human/half-fish monsters. Jones sports a full beard of squirming eels and a lobster claw for a hand.
He also has some sort of unexplained control over a giant-tentacled behemoth called the Kraken, and every few minutes bids it to reach up out from the depths and crumple some vessel. Before it decimates the craft, however, Kraken first sends its tentacles swooping across the ship's deck plucking its crewmembers one at a time and pulling them screeching into the sea. Verbinski manages to expend a great deal of screen time in this manner.
The filmmakers have perplexing pretensions to epic-ness here and do many things to produce a movie that is, more than anything else, long: long conversations that go nowhere; long sequences -- such as the one in which Depp is held captive by cannibals -- that go nowhere; endless swordfights that do nothing but pad, and pad some more.
Still, the film might have been salvaged -- or, at any rate, made less painful -- had Depp periodically infused the plodding proceedings with some of the oddball charm he emanated throughout the original. He is, however, all but missing in action here. His character appears in relatively few scenes, and his portrayal is decidedly less inspired. It's the closest the actor has come to phoning in a performance.
Perhaps the third time will be the charm, though I doubt it. Depp has sold, or at least rented, his soul to Disney, Bruckheimer and Verbinski in the service of an unnecessary franchise that compels him to repeat himself, to stifle his hallmark instinct for reinvention. My bet is, the third Pirates will also prove all blunder and no plunder.