PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL
Director: Gore Verbinski
Stars: Johnny Depp (Jack Sparrow), Geoffrey Rush (Barbossa), Orlando Bloom (Will Turner), Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann), Jack Davenport (Norrington), Jonathan Pryce (Governor Swann)
Rating: 12A
Running Time: 143 minutes

This reviewed first appeared in The Alien Online

Yo ho ho and a bottle of, ermÖwell, of hogwash really. Complete and utter hogwash, but distilled down so as to completely drown out the taste of its theme-park ride tie-in ingredients.

Iíll not beat about the bush: although the film should be at least 20 minutes shorter, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is enormous fun to watch. This is almost entirely due to Johnny Deppís performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, an eye-shadow-wearing pirate captain suffering from a touch of the sun and the loss of his ship, the Black Pearl.

The plot revolves around pirate treasure and curses and kidnapped heroines and is not quite nonsensical, giving at least a nod in the direction of old-fashioned piratical adventures. If actual sense is not to be made of it, then there is sufficient gusto and bravado on display to get us from one scene to the next without too many questions being raised; which, given that this is a swashbuckling film about pirates, ought to be enough for most.

Pirates is not The Matrix Reloaded - where youíre supposed to think about these things - you can simply tick off all the pirate conventions: walking the plank, treasure (and treasure islands!), talking parrots, sword and sea battles, etc., disengage brain and enjoy.

Deppís English accent in an improvement on the one he used in From Hell and he is given an excellent one-liner roughly every couple of minutes (although, to return to the filmís length again, even 72 excellent one-liners are perhaps 10 too many). Itís his crazed mannerisms and delivery of said one-liners that really stop the film from sagging too badly at times, as he hams it up like a seafaring Keith Richards. For those who remember it, only Tom Bakerís performance as Captain Rum in Blackadder II can match Deppís Captain Sparrow. Put me in the charge of the Oscars Iíd give the man a statuette for this role, if only for a change from the dull but worthy performances that normally take the honour.

If you think the other actors are doomed to be crushed by the weight of his efforts then youíd be right, but only up to a point; certainly Jonathan Pryceís talents are underused in his role and Jack Davenport seems, as always, rather stiff and bland (to be fair he has a couple of good lines), but most do manage to hold their own in the space left by Depp (who is not, it should be noted, the lead character) for them to shine in. Geoffrey Rush gets similarly into the spirit of things. Orlando Bloom certainly gives it a very good shot, and not without some success; as does Keira Knightley, whose character is no 19th century shrinking violet, but more a proto-Lara Croft (itís her hatred of tight corsets that metaphorically gives this away to begin with...).

Another thing that pleased this jaded old reviewer mightily was the fact that most of the fight scenes seemed to be filled with slow, lumpy, limited human beings rather than ultra-fluid, impossibly fast, invincible CGI effects. Iíve grown a little tired of lightsabre-wielding blurs flitting about the screen, so it was nice to see people fighting in the good old-fashioned way once more, even if against CGI-generated zombies!

Fans of difficult Russian arthouse cinema will not enjoy Pirates since itís a right old load of nautical-historical nonsense stitched together into a just-about-believable special effects extravaganza (some of the zombie effects are very good, but thankfully incidental rather than the centre of the action), but for lesser mortals, i.e. those of us not waiting for Battleship Potemkin to come out on Special Edition DVD with deleted scenes and directorís commentary, this is a laugh-out-loud funny and entertaining film for watching on an otherwise quiet Saturday night.

It gives me a warm glow to see that Hollywood can still do this kind of thing occasionally without cocking it up completely, and it gives me a warmer glow still to note that almost all the main characters are played by English actors. After all, we Brits always did the pirate thing better than most Ė just ask Sir Francis Drake!