Andy Bockelman: Fourth ‘Pirates’ is as waterlogged as the rest

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides'

2 out of 4 stars

137 minutes

Starring: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane and Geoffrey Rush.

Now playing at the West Theatre and at Steamboat Springs’ Metropolitan Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.

In a place where water drips upward and enormous ships are vacuum-packed in tiny bottles, a lot of things don’t make sense.

While the financial need for “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” seems perfectly rational, that kind of logic doesn’t make the full journey from the account’s office to the poop deck.

It’s a pirate’s life for Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).

That, of course, means taking the bad with the good when he finds himself in yet another fix as he tracks down the whereabouts of his raison d’être, the Black Pearl, all the while being under close watch by the British Navy.

Breaking out of a personal audience with King George II (Richard Griffiths) is easy enough for Jack, but tracking down an impostor who’s been sullying his “good name” is quite another task.

No sooner does he learn that his former lover Angelica (Penélope Cruz) is the culprit when he’s shanghaied upon her vessel with countless other recruits, destination unknown. But, the mystery would have been preferable to the truth, when Angelica reveals she’s working with the most scurrilous buccaneer around — Edward Teach (Ian McShane), more commonly known as Blackbeard, who may or may not be her father.

As the Queen Anne’s Revenge sails onward, Jack gets the skinny on his captors’ plans: to seek out the Fountain of Youth and find a way to give Blackbeard immortality. Even as he allies himself with the aging rogue, Jack has difficulty coming to grips with all the dangers involved in such a venture, which includes bloodthirsty mermaids and Blackbeard’s unpredictable zombie slaves, not to mention the return of old partner Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who’s happy to serve the king in an effort to beat the Spanish to the Fountain.

Depp’s sheer commitment to character development makes a one-dimensional guy like Jack Sparrow much more bearable than he would be if played by anyone else. But, after four movies, how much more drunken staggering, slurred speech and idiotic double entendres can we take from this man who looks like he hasn’t washed his dirty dreadlocks in a lifetime?

Well, as long as his eyeliner supplier’s happy.

Cruz is able and willing if not all that convincing as fiery Angelica, whose plans to join a convent went in the opposite direction after an affair with a certain captain who might still hold a torch for her. The weak love-hate relationship between the two leads is enough to make you say “Yo ho ho and a bottle of Ipecac.”

McShane does his best at portraying the most famous pirate who ever lived, but even though he projects an aura of menace as Blackbeard, he’s never all that fearsome. His occasionally flaming beard is a nice touch, but his practice of voodoo and all kinds of other black magic just seems out of place.

Rush looks subdued as Barbossa, who’s turned privateer in the wake of losing the Black Pearl and his right leg. Maybe it’s just the rum he keeps stored in his new prosthetic.

Or maybe he’s getting tired of having to scrape the barnacles off his role for another go.

If there’s one thing you can compliment Jerry Bruckheimer on, it’s for producing a series that induces a frenzy in which people can’t wait to throw down their pieces of eight and have a watch. Following a movie like “At World’s End” — which currently holds the record of most expensive film ever made — couldn’t have been easy, but there’s no sense in not trying, right?

New director Rob Marshall makes his replacement of Gore Verbinski apparent in this scaled back segment, which takes its story from “On Stranger Tides,” a non-“Pirates” historical fantasy novel by Tim Powers.

The “Chicago” filmmaker elicits some good performances from smaller sources, like Kevin McNally as Jack’s trusty first mate Gibbs or Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey as the mermaid Syrena, whose tears hold the key to making the Fountain of Youth’s water a potent elixir.

Unfortunately, Marshall makes the same mistakes as his predecessor, always relying on Depp’s comic relief to hold up the action in between sword fights, swings from a chandelier and plunges from cliff faces.

Haven’t we seen all this before?

This is the problem with the “Pirates” franchise, as each movie gets less and less fun every time you see it. And, since the latest just goes with the flow, it’s no surprise that it inspires little new beyond a slight shift in Hans Zimmer’s already solid musical score, showcasing work from Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela.

Like a bad case of scurvy, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” suffers from the debilitating affliction known as “sequel-itis.”

Symptoms include lazy repetitiveness, a lack of clear thought and a money-grubbing nature from all executives involved.

The cure is not that complicated, but with the announcement of a forthcoming fifth in the series, it’s apparent that Disney prefers to live with its bum leg rather than cutting it off.

At least the studio has that aversion to treating an ailment in common with its main hero, who must be carrying more diseases than even penicillin could cure.

Now playing at the West Theatre and at Steamboat Springs’ Metropolitan Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.

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