The new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, “On Stranger Tides,” is 30 minutes shorter than the previous one, and that is a good sign.
Aside from being unintelligible, the past couple of “Pirates” movies were overpopulated affairs, bogged down by special effects that seemed designed to distract us from the lack of stories and developed characterizations.
There are still too many indistinct characters –aargh—but at least this one has a plot: Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is being forced by Blackbeard (Ian McShane) to help him find the Fountain of Youth, which vaguely villainous Barbarossa (Geoffrey Rush) is also seeking. There are also secret agendas: Jack has a thing for Blackbeard’s daughter (Penelope Cruz), and Barbarossa is bent on avenging a wrong done him by Blackbeard.
As a result of all of that, “Stranger” has some narrative momentum, and it feels lighter on its feet than the past couple of Jack Sparrow movies. Maybe a bit too light on its feet? Jack and his compatriots never seem to care about anything they’re doing, so nothing in the “Pirates” movies matters much.
But enough complaints. I’d still recommend “Stranger,” and that’s because Depp’s Jack Sparrow remains such a distinctive comic creation. Depp can make a tired, double entendre sound like a gem. In fact, he does: “I support the missionary’s position.” And by now, he knows this glinty-eyed ne’er-do-well so completely that even Sparrow’s hurried pronunciations and sideways-shuffling walk are funny.
There’s enough time for Sparrow to swing from ropes, leap from horses and swig from flasks in “On Stranger Tides,” but the best thing about the pared-down running time is that it takes the focus off of enormous sea creatures and puts it squarely back on Depp’s enormous charm.
Grade ★ ★ ★ out of 5 stars
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