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Thursday, May 24, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Filmmakers take the wind out of fun "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," with Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Chow Yun-Fat, Jack Davenport, Bill Nighy. Directed by Gore Verbinski, from a screenplay by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, based on Walt Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean."

168 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence and some frightening images. Opens tonight (8 p.m. or later).

Audiences, lock up your eyeliner — Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is back, with braids dangling, nostrils flaring and swagger-and-flounce gait intact. Alas, he's starring in a movie more bloated than his hairstyle, and a lot less funny.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," the final film of Gore Verbinski's theme-park-ride-based trilogy, lumbers to the finish line as a triumph of spectacle over story, character and clarity. The first two movies, released in 2003 and 2006, weren't exactly subtle models of storytelling (did anyone really understand just what was going on during the second half of "Dead Man's Chest"?), but they were lively and funny popcorn fare. And Depp's endearingly loopy Sparrow, a character seemingly made up of twitches and flotsam, took the spotlight as a comedic tour de force.

But "World's End" (which opens tonight) seems to forget what the first two films (both huge box-office hits, as this one undoubtedly will be) knew so well: Captain Jack Sparrow is the movie. Sure, Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom are cute as English buttons as the swashbuckling lovebirds Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner; Bill Nighy does a fine job of acting behind the massive beard of quivering tentacles that swathes the chin of sea villain Davy Jones; and Geoffrey Rush's harrumphing (and mysteriously resurrected) Captain Barbossa is a welcome sight. The attention to detail is impressive (watch the nuances in the performance of a tiny costumed monkey), and the special effects top-notch. And yes, Keith Richards turns up, for an underwhelming two minutes or so.

But, really. Without Depp, all of this is filler — expensive, showy and entertaining filler, to be precise. At the end of the second film, Sparrow was left trapped in Davy Jones' Locker, so as "World's End" begins, he's quite absent. The film flails about for more than half an hour before he shows up, and it's like being on a roller coaster without ever taking a sudden dip; after a while, it's dull. And when Sparrow finally appears, starring in what appears to be a strange pirate version of "Being John Malkovich" (being in Davy Jones' Locker, apparently, can do that to a person), it's almost too late. The swirling, out-of-control plot has taken charge of the movie.

Depp never quite wrests it back, despite his best efforts. Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio seem to have lost interest in him as a character; instead, they devote much of the film's running time to the ever-shifting factions that seem to be at constant battle. These include the British merchants of the East India company, as well as a random group of pirate-types who own some mysterious pieces of eight, not to mention a gang of Singapore pirates led by Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat, given little screen time) and lots of seemingly random rabble-rousers. You may well lose track of who's fighting for whom, and it doesn't really matter: "At World's End" goes by in a blur of swords, waves and piratical snarling.

Amidst all this action, including a vast and very wet climactic battle at sea, Sparrow almost gets lost. This film is less comedic and more sweeping than the first two, and Depp often seems to be strolling the borders of the film, commenting on it. (As does Naomie Harris as the human embodiment of the sea goddess Calypso; she walks around perpetually intoning words of doom, like an unwelcome party guest.) Much of the pleasure of the first two movies was their silliness; by contrast, "At World's End" takes itself more seriously than a movie based on a theme-park ride probably should.

Nonetheless, the film is entertaining enough to go down with popcorn; all those raggedy costumes (Knightley, it should be noted, looks smashing in her wide-belted pirate garb) and sword-flying minions create a spectacle from which it's hard to look away. (As, of course, does Depp, who late in the film shoots Knightley a look of jaunty regret that's almost a movie in itself.) But you might shiver a bit at the draft caused by the door at the end that's left wide open for yet another sequel. Like "Shrek," another franchise that ran out of energy by its third installment, this "Pirates" ship has surely sailed its last, and Jack Sparrow may now, alas, be too much of a good thing.

"I wash my hands of this weirdness," he says early on; maybe it wasn't just the character who was speaking.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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