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Thursday, June 1, 2017 12:04 am

Depp distracts from Dead Men

Johnny Depp and Kaya Scodelario in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.


I was hoping that perhaps absence would make my heart grow fonder where Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean films were concerned. After all, it’s been six years since On Stranger Tides, the last bloated entry in the series, clogged up multiplexes across the country, and I thought maybe it would be refreshing to see some pirates among the dearth of superheroes flying across today’s screens.

Obviously, as I have gotten older my memory’s gotten spotty, but once the first protracted and needlessly complicated chase occurred in the latest installment of the series, Dead Men Tell No Tales, it all came back to me why I dislike these films so. They all include needless tangents with complex storytelling, bolstered by overblown action set pieces. While thumbing its nose at a reasonable sense of pace, the movie buckles under the weight of its misguided ambitions.

Things get off to a promising start when young Henry Turner (Lewis McGowan) tracks down the cursed ghost ship called the Flying Dutchman and his father, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), who’s trapped on the ship for eternity. The young boy has discovered that Poseidon’s trident has the power to free him and that all he has to do is find it. This message is met with a great degree of doubt, yet young Turner (now Brenton Thwaites) embarks on this quest, and nine years later, he encounters his father’s old mate Jack Sparrow, who may be able to help him find what he seeks. He also happens to meet Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a young woman sentenced for execution as she’s been accused of being a witch.

The only problem is that others are after the mythical object as well, chief among them the undead Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), who Sparrow left, cursed as well, to dwell in Devil’s Triangle for – you guessed it – eternity. However, they’ve recently escaped their fate and have set out on a campaign of carnage, which destroys three ships in Captain Barbossa’s fleet (Geoffrey Rush) and prompts the peg-legged pirate to set forth to stop Salazar.

These films don’t entertain you as much as they wear you down. Every action sequence runs too long and the plot is needlessly complex, eschewing streamlined storytelling as if it were a plague. This is a shame, as there are some good things here, which had they been allowed to develop might have saved the movie. The chemistry between Thwaites and Scodelario is palpable and should have been allowed to develop, as the actress is so beguiling she’s earned the right to carry a film on her own. Rush and Bardem are committed and quite good, but the highlight comes at the halfway mark when we’re told the history of Salazar and Sparrow’s feud and how the latter came to become a captain. Supernatural elements are absent from this 10-minute respite, as nothing but good old-fashioned pirate hijinks, a neat double cross and grounded, humane performances make for a mini example of what this movie could have been.

However, the biggest fault was once the series’ biggest asset. Depp shamelessly mugs throughout, his performance nothing but a series of slurred words, stumbling pratfalls and wide-eyed reactions. What was once charming and served as a comedic compliment to the outlandish events surrounding Sparrow has become a self-serving exercise that stops the movie dead in its tracks whenever he appears. It’s almost as if the actor is in his own production and the rest of the cast occupies another. I suspect that were directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg to take out each scene featuring their star, they’d still have a coherent film and a far more entertaining one at that. However, in this case, Disney is more interested in profit than quality, and as long as Depp’s name guarantees butts in seats, Captain Sparrow will continue to sail through protracted adventures, wasting my and other’s time in the process.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

For a review of Baywatch, go to the Cinemascoping blog at http://illinoistimes.com.

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