Depp’s slurs, swashbuckling glimmer with hope in ‘Tides’

May 31, 2011

Did you know that there are theme-park rides that allow you to recreate all the fun and excitement you felt while watching "Alien vs. Predator?" How about all those beloved memories you shared with your family with those countless viewings of the World War II submarine thriller "U-571?" Or maybe you'd like to share quality time with the kids by taking them on the ride based on the "Saw" films.

The list of rides based on films is lengthy ("Wayne's World's" The Hurler, anyone?), but the list is short for the reverse. That is why expectations were so low when way back in 2002 Disney announced it was working on an epic based on its stalwart Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

Much to everyone's surprise, they pulled it off, largely due to the playful vision of director Gore Verbinski and the iconic performance of Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack Sparrow.
"The Curse of the Black Pearl" became a unexpected phenomenon that had the potential of becoming this generation's Indiana Jones.

Much like Indy, Sparrow's subsequent adventures proved pale comparisons to the exhilarating original, but still managed to satiate the masses and make massive bank.
Also much like the Indiana Jones franchise, "Pirates" decided to return to its well a fourth time after a few years’ distance. And, just as with the indefatigable Dr. Jones, absence did not make the heart grow fonder with this latest installment, "On Stranger Tides."

Jack Sparrow himself is still as engaging as ever; it's just a shame the adventure charted by new "Pirates" director Rob Marshall is simply more of the same, this time getting dragged into a search for the Fountain of Youth. Gone without explanation are previous partners Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). In their stead, we have old flame Angelica (played by Penelope Cruz) and young missionary Philip (Sam Claflin).

Barbossa (played by Geoffrey Rush) returns, and Blackbeard (played by Ian McShane) is introduced, along with about a dozen other inconsequential characters that serve to puff up the picture like a frilly pirate shirt. What should have been a scrub-down of the franchise's cluttered poop deck instead welcomes aboard even more passengers to the leaking, overstuffed vessel.

This is the first installment pimped out in 3D, and aside from some shameless thrusts at the audience, it's merely a throwaway gimmick.

If ever there was a film series that could benefit from that cinematic trickery, it's "Pirates," what with the sprawling oceanic settings and the intricate ships that toss about. But Marshall did not actually film it in 3D, and the subsequent retrofitting only muddies the film more.

The most frustrating aspect of "Tides" is the overall feeling of a tremendous opportunity missed. With its Fountain of Youth plot line, the film had the chance to both literally and figuratively start anew.

Throughout, the film feels labored to the point of exhaustion, with only Depp slurring and swashbuckling with glimmers of hope.

Blackbeard's a bore, Barbossa's regulated to a mere afterthought, and a bit with a human-mermaid romance was more engaging in another Disney flick called "Splash." The action mechanically motors along, coupled with a jaunty "you-have-to-get-excited" score that would invigorate scenes of napping. But there is an overall lack of peril throughout, as though we are safely behind the lap bars of a park ride, witnessing the spectacle without once becoming involved with it.

I guess that is one positive about "Tides." It does come closer to recreating the synthetic nature of the actual Disney attraction than any of the previous films.