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'Tides' Formula: Swash, Buckle, Repeat As Necessary

Princess Of 'Tides': Penelope Cruz (right, wearing less eyeliner) joins Johnny Depp for a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean adventure. (Buena Vista Pictures)

It must be exhausting, looking for an escape route every time you enter a room. I'd never caught Captain Jack Sparrow doing that before Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, but there's a new director at the helm this time — Rob Marshall, who made the musical Chicago — and I guess he wants you to be aware of his action choreography.

So in setting up an early Captain Jack escape from a palace interrogation, Marshall draws your attention — and Johnny Depp's — to the respective positions of a window, a chandelier and a gilded chair. Only then does he find an excuse for Depp to swish into action: an exchange of insults with the foppishly overdressed Captain Barbosa, who is now a royal flunky, that ends with Depp kicking food off a long banquet table, hurling that gilded chair through a window, swinging from the chandelier and eventually ending up on the street.

There, he evades British soldiers by plunging into an 18th-century version of rush hour — horse-drawn carriages, coaches and coal carts zooming every which way as Depp leaps from moving roof to moving roof. It's the kind of thing you can imagine Gene Kelly turning into a real tour-de-force, except he'd have insisted on doing it in one take, not with stunt doubles and chopped-up editing. Still, it's frenetic, and that's all most Pirates audiences expect anymore, right?

Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

  • Director: Rob Marshall
  • Genre: Action
  • Running Time: 137 minutes

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo

With: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush, Stephen Graham

Apart from choreographed action, here's what's different this time:

  • Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are gone. Can't say I miss them, but apparently the producers thought someone might, so they've been replaced by an equally bland chaplain (Sam Claflin) and mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey).

  • This being the first post-Twilight installment in the Pirates franchise, its mermaids are all vampires. (Wouldn't you love to have been present at that story conference?)

  • Captain Barbosa has acquired a peg leg (explained in a late-film lull), as well as a new nemesis: Blackbeard (Ian McShane), who helms the world's grimiest pirate ship.

  • Penelope Cruz arrives in disguise, playing Jack's former flame (again, details are brushed in late) with lots of swagger and not much heat.

  • The picture has been shot in 3-D, presumably to add depth to Cruz's cleavage. (OK, that's not the real reason. More likely someone thought those 3-D glasses would darken the special effects sequences and disguise how labored they are.)

Speaking of labored, let's discuss the plot. The Fountain-of-Youth quest in On Stranger Tides has been touted by the director as reducing clutter in a series that has previously made clutter a point of style. And it does result in one long voyage rather than lots of little side trips, and in a through line that is admittedly clearer this time. But making things clear in a franchise based on a theme-park ride just has the effect of making the film seem best suited for youngsters — who may well freak out over those vampire mermaids.

Small kids won't really appreciate Johnny Depp, either, though frankly he's getting to be less fun as the series ages, possibly realizing that what's riskiest in Pirates 4 isn't walking the plank, but jumping the shark.

Not that producer Jerry Bruckheimer is ever going to sink this treasure hunt — worldwide grosses $2.6 billion and counting — as long as Depp is game to come back on board. On Stranger Tides ends with a post-credits tease for the next episode in what's apparently going to be a whole second trilogy. By the end of which, we'll be ready for ... what? Pirates of the Caribbean: On Golden Pond?

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Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And Johnny Depp plays Captain Jack Sparrow again. Chapter four in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" saga is out today, called "No Stranger Tides." And it finds the pirate captain searching for the fountain of youth.

Our critic, Bob Mondello, says the series needs it.

BOB MONDELLO: It must be exhausting looking for an escape route every time you enter a room. I'd never caught Captain Jack Sparrow doing that before, but there's a new director at the helm, Rob Marshall, who made the musical "Chicago," and I guess he wants you to be aware of his action choreography.

So before an early palace escape, he draws your attention, and Johnny Depp's, to the respective positions of a window, a chandelier and a gilded chair. And then he brings on a foppishly overdressed Captain Barbossa, now flunky to King George, and lets Depp swish into action.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES")

GEOFFREY RUSH: (As Barbossa) (Unintelligible). Where's the harm in joining the winning side?

JOHNNY DEPP: (As Captain Jack Sparrow) I understand everything except that wig.

MONDELLO: And he's off, kicking food off a long banquet table, swinging from that chandelier and eventually ending up on the street, where he evades British soldiers by plunging into an 18th-century version of rush hour - horse-drawn carriages zooming every which way - as Depp leaps from moving roof to moving roof.

It's the kind of thing you can imagine dancer Gene Kelly turning into a real tour-de-force, except he'd have insisted on doing it in one take, not with stunt doubles and chopped-up editing. Still, it's frenetic, and that's Pirates audiences expect, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES")

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEPP: (As Sparrow) Captain, I wish to report a mutiny. I can name fingers and point names.

MONDELLO: Apart from choreographed action, here's what's different this time: Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are gone. Can't say I miss them, but apparently the producers thought audience might, so they've been replaced by an equally bland chaplain and mermaid.

This being the first post-"Twilight" Pirates movies, its mermaids are all vampires. Wouldn't you love to have been present at that story conference?

And then there's Penelope Cruz.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES")

PENELOPE CRUZ: (As Angelica) What were you doing in a Spanish convent, anyway?

DEPP: (As Sparrow) I was looking for a brothel. Honest mistake.

MONDELLO: She shows up playing Jack's former flame and presumably to add depth to her cleavage, the picture has been shot in 3-D. Okay, that's not the reason. More likely someone thought those 3-D glasses would darken the special effects sequences and disguise how labored they are.

Speaking of labored, let's talk plot.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES")

CRUZ: (As Angelica) Have you ever seen the fountain of youth?

DEPP: (As Sparrow) I'm sorry, could you repeat the question, please?

MONDELLO: This youth quest in "On Stranger Tides" is certainly clearer than the last two Pirates plots, but making things clear in a franchise based on a theme-park ride just makes it seem best suited for real youth, of an age likely to freak out over vampire mermaids.

Small kids won't really appreciate Johnny Depp, either, though frankly he's getting to be less fun as the series ages, possibly realizing that what's riskiest in "Pirates 4" isn't walking the plank but jumping the shark.

NORRIS: On Golden Pond"? I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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