(PG-13) 3.5 stars
In my 2003 review of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, I said the rousing, tongue-in-cheek film was “surprisingly entertaining, despite being produced by mega-hack Jerry Bruckheimer, despite being far too long at two hours plus and despite the fact that it is based on a theme park ride.” The same goes for the new movie, the first of two sequels, with a few qualifications. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is not quite as entertaining and, at an exhausting 151 minutes, it’s eight minutes too-longer than the original movie.
Once again, the best thing about the film is Johnny Depp as the slurry swashbuckler, Capt. Jack Sparrow. As is widely known, Depp crafted the character by combining elements of two pop culture icons. The actor drew on the swagger and cool of legendary Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, of course, but often overlooked is his other prime inspiration, never-say-die cartoon romantic hero Pepe Le Pew. “He was a skunk who believed he was a ladies man, and he really believed it,” Depp said of the Looney Tunes star. “No matter what the true reality was, he really believes in his own reality.”
Incidentally, if all goes according to plan, Keith Richards will turn up briefly as a pirate in the final film of the trilogy. Alas, Pepe Le Pew is unlikely to make an appearance.
The plot of Dead Man’s Chest centers on Capt. Jack’s attempts to get out of a blood debt owed to the legendary Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), head fiend of the ghost ship the Flying Dutchman. To save himself, Jack must find the key to a wooden locker that contains the still-beating heart of … Oh hell, enough of that. Jack needs a treasure chest and everybody else wants it too.
Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) of the East India Trading Company is one of those people. To get it, he locks up Will Turner (Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) on trumped up charges, forcing Will to try and save his imprisoned finance by snagging the chest before Jack. Ah, but the plucky Elizabeth soon escapes and sets off to find her beloved.
As with Pirates 1, the filmmakers take an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to the adventure stories. They also seem devoted to the notion that anything that works once is worth repeating, and sometimes repeating a third time. The double-dipping is most annoying when we are subjected to a repeat visit with Jamaican soothsayer Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris), who does the same sort of wince-inducing crazy-spooky shtick that Thandie Newton did in Beloved.
The repetitiveness is enervating, but the movie offers rewards. In addition to Depp, who remains mesmerizing as Capt. Jack, there are some surprisingly effective scenes between Will and his estranged father, Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgard), now part of the crew of the Flying Dutchman. And Bill Nighy is remarkable as Davy Jones, whose octopus-like head is one of the best special effects in a movie full of good ones. Nighy brings out the character beneath the elaborately-rigged face, which is quite an achievement.
I’ll wrap this up by paraphrasing the closing words of my Pirates 1 review. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is too long, too familiar and too repetitive. However, Depp, a strong cast and a string of thundering set pieces nearly make up for the deficit areas. Oh, and those viewers patient enough to sit through the looooooong closing credits will be rewarded by a brief final gag.