Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl Review
It was the bravest gamble of the summer, spending $125 million on a pirate adventure. The wrecks of Cutthroat Island, Pirates, Yellowbeard, The Pirate Movie and Disney's recent animated flop Treasure Planet had convinced most of Hollywood that the pirate genre had a curse on it. Consider it lifted. Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl, which has its roots in a popular Disneyland theme park ride, has been a colossal success and for good reason. It has the two vital elements missing from most of this summer's tepid entertainments - a keen sense of fun and the (not quite) lost art of showmanship.
It also has the summer's hottest cast. We should expect no less from Jerry Bruckheimer, who put Tom Cruise in Top Gun, Will Smith in Bad Boys and Ben Affleck in Armageddon. The man has a nose for tomorrow's pin-ups. For Pirates, he gives their first high profile lead roles to a couple of up and coming Brits - Lord Of The Rings heartthrob Orlando Bloom and Bend It Like Beckham's Keira Knightley, who was described on that film's US publicity campaign as, I quote, "the sexiest tomboy beanpole on the planet". Good luck living that one down, love. And for when the pouting, dewy-eyed heroes wear thin, Bruckheimer has also cast the great Johnny Depp, who turns in one of the most purely enjoyable performances you'll see all year. He plays Captain Jack Sparrow as a real rock star of a buccaneer, complete with Nelly's gold teeth, Avril Lavigne's eye-shadow and Keith Richards' accent and mannerisms. Like Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday in Tombstone, this is a character who is wholly original and still appropriate to the material. He brings a sparkle to every scene he appears in.
We first meet Sparrow as he hops off his sinking lifeboat onto the dock at Port Royal, a British trading post in the West Indies. There he saves the governor's beautiful daughter Elizabeth (Knightley) from drowning, only to be arrested for piracy and sentenced to hang. As he sits in his cell, the port is attacked by the Black Pearl, a sinister vessel commanded by the evil Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). He and his undead crew are the victims of a terrible curse placed on the Aztec gold they plundered. They're doomed to a zombie-like state until they find every last piece of the treasure. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, that last piece is on a chain around her shapely neck and she soon finds herself a reluctant passenger on the Black Pearl. Her only hope is blacksmith Will Turner (Bloom), a childhood friend who loves her and refuses to stand by and wait for the blundering British Navy to rescue her. Taking Sparrow's word that he knows where Barbossa is headed, Will breaks the condemned captain out of jail and together they steal a ship and set off in pursuit.
If Pirates Of The Caribbean has a fault, it's overlength. At 143 minutes, it's too much of a good thing. Director Gore Verbinski (The Ring) and screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (Shrek) want to cram in every piece of pirate lore from sword fights to sea battles, from treasure islands to innocent maidens forced to walk the plank. However, unlike Cutthroat Island, with which it shares that problem and indeed many other similarities, Pirates never becomes dull or overbearing. Verbinski understands that wit and anticipation are more entertaining than explosions and mayhem. He also knows how to get the best from his actors. Aside from the three leads, there's old pro Geoffrey Rush sending up every hammy Long John Silver in showbiz history and there's good comic support in minor roles that most directors would pad out with faceless extras. The production is suitably spectacular and the special effects seamless. Those zombie pirates look great, though they may be a bit much for younger kids. In the most crowded summer marketplace in movie history, Pirates Of The Caribbean offers the best night out yet.