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Thursday, July 6, 2006 - Page updated at 03:53 PM

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Movie Review

Yo ho, yo ho, "Pirates" is for you

Seattle Times movie critic

Quite possibly the silliest movie to grace multiplex screens this summer, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" can only be described as a hoot. A goofball riff on the pirate-movie genre, this sequel is as insubstantial as popcorn — and as delicious. If you're among the many who've been counting the days until the return of Johnny Depp's bizarro pirate king Captain Jack Sparrow, know that you will not be disappointed. Depp is back, with something resembling a vengeance.

Part of the fun of the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, a huge hit in summer 2003, was its unexpectedness: Nobody thought a movie based on a Disneyland ride could possibly be any good, but we were swept up in the giddy fun of Depp's strange, intoxicating performance — part swashbuckling rock star, part deadpan Captain Hook, a third part all his own. "Dead Man's Chest," by contrast, comes with expectations: We know Depp will swagger onto the screen, wreathed in dreadlocks and grinning a gold-toothed smile, but what will be new this time around? And what reason could director Gore Verbinski give us for heading out to the multiplexes again, rather than staying home with the first "Pirates" DVD?

Quite simply, Captain Jack Sparrow needs to be experienced on the big screen; this performance deserves a vast canvas, the better to see its oddball nuances. This time around, Depp seems even more otherworldly: Jack has more bits of flotsam dangling from his hair, more smudged kohl around his eyes, more of a slightly staggering, perpetually rum-filtered gait. When Jack runs — as he often does here — his arms are raised high and wildly gesticulating, as if he's conducting some very complicated symphony. And his trademark twitch — his Jack is a veritable concerto of twitches — returns, often acting as punctuation for his dialogue.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer 3 stars

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" with Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Naomie Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Tom Hollander. Directed by Gore Verbinski, from a screenplay by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. 140 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of adventure violence, including frightening images. Opening at midnight tonight in several theaters, including Pacific Place, Oak Tree, Crossroads, Bella Bottega, Alderwood Mall. See listings on opposite page.

Like "The Devil Wears Prada," also at the multiplexes, "Dead Man's Chest" is more of a star vehicle than an all-around great movie, and things dim a bit when Depp is off-screen. Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio rise to the challenge of creating the middle film of a planned trilogy (the third will appear in theaters next summer), leaving us with a nifty cliffhanger that I wouldn't dream of revealing.

But they haven't succeeded in making Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) much more than supporting-character eye candy. Both are charming actors, with their dewy beauty providing a nice contrast to the rather mildewy band of pirates, and both get more action this time around. But we're still just waiting for Depp to return to the screen. (Knightley and Depp do, however, have a nicely saucy scene on the deck of the Black Pearl. I'd call it flirting, but what Depp is doing seems less conventional than that; it's more that she's a prize he feels entitled to. Anyway, Jack's idea of flirting is to hand somebody a bottle of rum.)

Where "Dead Man's Chest" improves over the original is in the action sequences, which are even more fun this time around. Haven't you always wanted to see a duel fought on an ancient wooden water wheel, rolling through a graveyard? Or a ship attacked by a massive, octopuslike sea monster? Or a fight scene that really serves as an excuse for Jack to get himself a new hat, swiped from an unsuspecting head?

And the special effects are often breathtaking, particularly the strangely tentacled face of Jack's nemesis, Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), a monstrous ghost who resembles a nautical version of the Phantom of the Opera (particularly when he sits down at his deep-sea organ). The ever-moving tentacles, a surreal match to Jack's dreadlocks, seem to have a life of their own, but Nighy manages to create a character from behind them.

All in all, "Dead Man's Chest," though overlong, is exactly the sort of thing we want from summer movies: wit, spectacle and Johnny Depp raising an eyebrow as he blurts out lines that sound entirely improvised. (Likely they're not, but Depp's gifts as an actor make us believe it.)

"I love those moments," he intones in his rugged whisper, when urged by Elizabeth to seize the moment and do the right thing. "I like to wave to them as they pass by."

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

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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