Do you think he plans it all out,' asks a befuddled British officer, marvelling at one of Jack Sparrow's characteristically miraculous escapes, 'or just makes it up as he goes along?'
It's a million dollar (okay, a $400 million) question, one that should be aimed at now uber-successful director Gore Verbinski. For while the Pirates films have never pretended to be cerebral, now it seems more ad hoc than ever. Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End really doesn't seem to have any sort of real script, presumably cobbled hastily by excitable Hollywood executives in an urge to please every demographic.
The result is a tremendous mishmash, a hideous blend of cliche and hammy acting, with a few tiny slivers of wit occasionally making their way past all that CGI. Robert Louis Stevenson passing through the Jerry Bruckheimer machine: not a pretty picture.
But then, of course, there's Johnny Depp.
It's painfully ironic to consider that Depp -- that quirkiest of the super-talented leading men, the man behind films of groundbreaking ingenuity and insane characters -- seems to have sold his soul to Davy Jones' Dollar. He has chosen his legacy, half-witted films based on a theme park ride that allow him to be incredibly self-indulgent, fop around on set for a while, pay him megabucks and let him haul his rockstar friends aboard. Ah, what a merry time.
He has made quite a bargain, though. Indeed, Captain Jack Sparrow is immortal. He's the first truly iconic character of this cinematic generation, and one of the most original ever. Depp breathes foul-smelling life into this articulate rummy with superb flair, and that's no mean feat. He deserved an Oscar for One. And he's going to be back for Four, and more.
As a result, the films are now designed around clever Jack one-liners, the bloated plot and thick character stew serving only as backdrop for moments Jack mercifully chooses to come on screen and seduce us, instantly. Except, alas, he doesn't do that enough. It's as if the old sea dog knows the film is tripe, and couldn't be bothered to help it along more. 'A plot like this?' Jack'd say, 'Fine, we'll have a lovely garden party and you're not invited.'
The plot has an interesting premise, so what if it starts off in decidedly Mangal Pandey fashion, with gallows and song. The East India Company is taking over the high seas (the world, pretty much) and the only form of rebellion is coming from the Pirates. It's a great concept for the world today, spanners thrown into the corporate machinery by swashbuckling purveyors of piracy, freeing up expression and sticking it to the man. The film, of course, chooses to ignore this entirely, getting tangled up in a ridiculous story instead.
And what a messy yarn it is, chock-full of curses, goddesses, alter egos, clones and crabs. And a slew of characters. The story heads the Fellowship route, with the need for an elite panel, the nine pirate lords, coming together to convene the brethren court. None of these other pirates -- peers to Depp's Sparrow and Geoffrey Rush's Barbossa -- are sketched out. Figuratively, that is; Chow Yun-Fat's Sao Feng is admittedly blessed with pretty scars, but that's pretty much it. A bad French pirate and a squeaky Sikh? How's that for wealth of character.
As mentioned earlier, this is a please-everyone-possible kind of movie. Which is why all the principal characters, from Sparrow to Barbossa to Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) to Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) to Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) get to call the shots, to proclaim themselves Captain. Like Jack comments, 'It's like giving the title away.' And Knightley is particularly painful, the pouty anorexic expression doing little for the stunner as she overacts her way, chewing up scenery, an annoying girl surprisingly handed the lead role in a complete lads' film.
Of course, this is way, way larger than life. The budget is massive, and so there is much detailing. The art direction is excellent, as are the costumes, and some special effects set-pieces are simply stellar. It's just that in a film stretching to almost three hours (and feeling close to four), after a point it just all seems like one big wet swordfight, elaborate choreography be damned.
There is one particularly brilliant idea, though. Barbossa, Elizabeth, Will, and that decreasingly fabulous lady with a name like a fine bottle of tequila, Tia Dalma (played by Naomie Harris, the highlight of Two), head an expedition to find Cap'n Jack, swallowed up by the Kraken at the end of the second film. They finally arrive at their mythical destination, the end of the world -- a disappointingly blank-white area, with not even a diner in sight. Sigh.
Back to the brilliance, however. It is here that Jack Sparrow shoots himself. Stop gasping, girl, that isn't a spoiler. Sparrow, on board his Black Pearl, is running a ship populated by his clones. It's the moment women live for, as that glorious loon is all over the place, wisecracking and retorting, obeying and bellowing orders. It's a superb idea, and would have sent audiences home happy had the filmmakers followed it to the end, a trippy many-Depp entertaining us with ease. Jack, however, is scornful, and jumps ship. 'Gentlemen, I wash my hands of all this weirdness.' Damn, we should have followed his cue.
The second Pirates film was filler, but there was enough Jack in it to keep you going. It was, however, a half hour too long, by any measure. This one -- save for the incredible screen moment of seeing Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards play dad to Jack Sparrow, the character modeled loosely on himself -- has nothing, really. And is much, much longer. Even a lot more Jack might not have helped too much.
The first Pirates Of The Caribbean was an absolute corker, a film that made you switch to rum and sport an eyepatch. This new film requires you wear two.
Rediff Rating:(And you know his name)