Treasure Chest

Well-oiled assembly-line sequel is pure make-believe

Of course it's only a summertime sequel, an overinflated, plot-contrivance-by-committee, cheap-shot leviathan, big and graceless as a rusting luxury liner, referencing its hit source movie as if it were a holy gospel, distending gag routines that flopped like a snapper on the dock the first time around. But you were expecting . . . ? The good news, in a season of dire portents, is that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is even more of a party-hearty-Marty potlatch of silliness than its predecessor. The franchise having been established, Verbinski, Bruckheimer, and Co. have been liberated to indulge in absurdities, pile on the so-old-they're-new-again clichés, and make jokes at their own expense.

There's not a self-serious bone in the movie's body. It's an assembly-line truffle, but someone was determined to break the genre bank. The stew includes a cannibal tribe, a voodoo queen, a ship-consuming monster cephalopod, the Flying Dutchman, Davy Jones's locker, the infamous East India Company (as the ultimate corporate villain), and a cannon-blasting sea battle, and in the process fulfills, in a goofy-face-contest kind of way, the promise of all pirate movies going back to 1917's Betty and the Buccaneers. It's pure matinee make-believe, high-spirited and outlandish and pleasantly grotesque, if, unfortunately, too long and too Dolby-atomic groady for the little kids who might appreciate it the most.

The story that holds this gibbering nonsense afloat involves a magical compass, the ambitions of British colonials, and a tangle of supernatural curses, rules, and debts centering around the rather spectacular presence of Jones (an all but unrecognizable Bill Nighy), the undead captain of the Dutchman's crew of barnacled crustacean zombies, and himself a Scottish-accented squid-head demagogue with a giant lobster claw and a penchant for playing his Nemo-like organ with face tentacles. The series protagonists cannot compete with Nighy's briny godling and Naomie Harris's rasping swamp witch; Johnny Depp's Keith Richards routine, seemingly even rummier now, is still thin shtick, but he's merely the comic relief who finds himself, to his annoyance, standing inappropriately at center stage. Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom remain line-reading Sleep-Eze, less functional or effective than Kevin McNally as the Black Pearl's put-upon first mate and official POTC empathy point.

Search for booty: Depp and Bloom, center
photo: Buena Vista Pictures/Disney Enterprises Inc.
Search for booty: Depp and Bloom, center

Naturally, the filmmakers have no idea where or when to stop; in the more forgiving theatrical marketplaces of yore, this could have, and would have, been two or more smaller movies. But if the many octopod Kraken attacks are one deafening digital crash-up too many, they're still a merchant-ship-era folklore icon—here there be monsters—come to fantastic life. The ingredients for a movie-movie tropical vacation are all here, including the boozy highs, the chintz, the wandering waste of time, and the hangover.

 
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