- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

Dull may be the last adjective we’d lay on Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp’s sozzled seaman from 2003’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

But its follow-up, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” flirts perilously close to that pejorative.

Where the original efficiently re-imagined the pirate movie, “Dead Man’s Chest” — the first of two planned sequels — bombards us with more, more more derring-do than we can possibly swallow. Two and a half hours later, we’re left with less than the sum of its convoluted parts.

“Dead Man’s Chest” wraps with a cliffhanger but viewers may be too exhausted to await round three.

The first “Pirates” lost steam just as it raced toward its ghost-busting conclusion. The new film tries valiantly but never regains the glee of the first go around.

“Dead Man’s Chest” opens with Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) watching their wedding day turn into a nightmare. Both are arrested for having helped Captain Jack escape punishment for his sundry pirate games, and they can only stave off jail time if Will swipes a special compass from Jack, a move which ultimately will help the East India Trading Company keep control of the seas.

Huh?

Meanwhile, Jack discovers his own freedom is in jeopardy. Davy Jones, he of the watery locker, has his hooks in Jack for a lifetime of servitude for granting him the Black Pearl in the first place.

Oh, did we mention that Will’s father, Bootstrap Bill pops up, slathered in seaweed but still recognizable as serious actor Stellan Skarsgard?

The film’s first 20 minutes alone features so much exposition it’s as though director Gore Verbinski and company were staking out a dozen sequels, not a mere two.

“Dead Man’s Chest” is set among several islands and miles of choppy waters, yet the characters run into each other more often than Gilligan and the Skipper. That’s a distraction, but so, too, is the unnecessarily dense story line.

Two daring set pieces seem to sum up “Dead Man’s Chest.” The first, an escape from a spherical prison made of bones, must have looked exhilarating on the storyboards. On screen, though, the moment makes little sense beyond an excuse to put our heroes in unconventional danger.

Later, a three way sword fight breaks out within a giant, rolling wheel and the same sense of malaise settles in. Mr. Depp, buried alive under mascara, gold teeth and dreadlocks, remains a deliciously original find, even if the rumored Keith Richards cameo never materializes. Still, watching him scamper from one ill-conceived set piece to the next only diminishes the impact of his first pirate adventure.

A gaggle of returning and fresh characters give our heroes fits, but the only one to register is Naomie Harris as a Caribbean fortuneteller with her own connection to Captain Jack.

Special effects nearly save the day — from a frightening water beast to the tentacled Davy Jones. British actor Bill Nighy supplies the movements and voice, but a loud bravo goes out to the tech team responsible for making Davy’s squid mug come alive. Even within our special effects laden culture, that effect leaves us slack- jawed.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” is every bit a sequel — longer, loopier and less fun than the original. Let’s hope “Pirates 3” rediscovers the magic, or at least clocks in at under two hours.

**

TITLE: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”

RATING: PG-13 (Swashbuckling action, frightening creatures and bloody fighting)

CREDITS: Directed by Gore Verbinski. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio.

RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes

WEB SITE: https://disney.go.com/disneypictures/pirates/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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