Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

A lonely Spanish fishing boat pulls up a man in its net. Clasping a map and suddenly reanimated, he mumbles something about the Fountain of Youth.
    To the king!
    When the British discover that the Spaniards have set off in search of Ponce de Leon’s discovery, they set their own ships after the armada. Led by newly minted king’s privateer Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush: The King’s Speech), the Brits try to recruit the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp: Rango) — with promises of pardons for his crimes.
    Jack has fallen on hard times: No boat, no crew and currently shackled in England. However, instead of worrying for his life, our favorite pirate is more interested in solving another mystery: Who has been impersonating him to recruit an English pirate crew?
    His sleuthing ends about as well as any of Jack’s ventures: With him as slave labor aboard The Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s (Ian McShane: Pillars of the Earth) legendary ship. To stay alive, Jack must lead the psychotic pirate to the Fountain of Youth before the Spanish and British lay claim to it.
    Oh, and Jack’s old flame Angelica (Penelope Cruz: Sex and the City 2) may or may not be Blackbeard’s daughter. So a typical adventure for our captain.
    Here’s what Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise does right: It allows Depp to plum his acting repertoire for the broadest physical comedy he can muster. As Captain Jack Sparrow, he leaps, flails and reacts in a larger-than-life way that is as funny as it is absurd. The key to Depp’s character is letting the audience in on how astute his quirky captain is, in spite of his bumbling idiot act.
    The problem is that as the series progresses, the filmmakers forget that Jack is supposed to be a clever man playing an idiot. Now he’s just a buffoon who gets lucky — a lot.
    The deeper problem is that the franchise seems incapable of learning from its past mistakes. The power couple of the first three movies, Will and Elizabeth, dissolved into a boring, whiney drag. On Stranger Tides promised a sleeker film, without Will and Elizabeth, only to repeat their whining with a mermaid and a priest we’ve never before met.
    The only interesting character addition is McShane, who snarls through his baddie role with an evil glee. He’s a worthy adversary to Jack, if only his pesky daughter stopped bothering him. Cruz can’t redeem a worthless role that doesn’t allow her to do anything but sass and sneer.
    On Stranger Tides isn’t unmitigated disaster. The scenes with Rush, McShane and Depp sing with adventure and humor. But the movie sinks under the weight of unnecessary plots and characters. It’s worth a look for Sparrow fans, but I recommend a popcorn run whe you see the priest and the mermaid.

Fair Adventure • PG-13 • 137 mins.