Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

By Stephen Rebello

Disney's fourth installment of the swashbuckling adventure fantasy film series brings Penelope Cruz into the fold.

Director: Rob Marshall Rating: PG-13 Studio: Jerry Bruckheimer Films

It’s not saying much that Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is better than Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. A Disney movie franchise crying to be dry-docked, the fourth seafaring yo-ho-ho epic has Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow braving treacherous seas, seductive, vampire-like mermaids, Spanish buccaneer Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and zombie Brit pirate Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to get his mitts on the Fountain of Youth. Except that Sparrow doesn’t seem to care all that much about the quest and so neither do we.

As directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago), the action moves elegantly, and everything in the production has an expensive, opulent sheen. Doesn’t matter. The movie just sits there like a big, gilt-edged lump, obstinately refusing to take flight, charm, thrill or delight. It’s only about two hours and fifteen minutes long and it’s probably going to haul in shiploads of money, but this thing plods because there’s no engine driving the swordfights, chases and narrow escapes. Depp’s mincing, mascara’d sot by now feels mummified. Cast adrift with his fellow cast members by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio’s meandering, exposition-heavy screenplay, Depp’s performance seems guided by autopilot and muscle memory, not any sense of fun or inspiration. He and new cast addition Penelope Cruz, playing an old flame who is also Blackbeard’s swashbuckling daughter, generate zero chemistry and Rush’s character—once such a kick—is now just another annoyance.

Want to see a truly fun, sexy, action-packed swashbuckler? Instead, see how it was done to perfection by Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood, The Black Swan with Tyrone Power, The Crimson Pirate with Burt Lancaster or Scaramouche with Stewart Granger.

About the Author

Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interview and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2011. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.


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