Shiver me timbers, mateys! If it's pirates ye want, it's pirates ye'll get! Not just a single boatload is sailing in!
"Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas" has already landed, bringing some bull's-eye animation, if not the most exciting story ye've ever seen. And now "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" is heading into port, towing a title so long it may not fit on multiplex marquees.
It's no "Sea Hawk" or "Captain Blood," but it does contain a not-so-buried treasure that'll have ye rubbing your eyes to see if they've been addled by pirate grog: a go-for-broke performance by Johnny Depp as a fey buccaneer whose dandified demeanor is more fun to watch than everything else in the spectacle put together.
Mr. Depp plays Jack Sparrow, a pirate so peculiar that one character proclaims him the worst to ever sail the seven seas - and then the best to ever sail the seven seas - within a single swashbuckling scene.
Crossing his path is a pirate-loathing British governor and the governor's gorgeous daughter (played by Keira Knightley of "Bend It Like Beckham"). She once had a run-in with seaborne brigands, escaping with her life and also a golden pendant she still wears around her neck.
A pendant is never just a pendant in this sort of picture, and sure enough, evil buccaneers are eager to get it in their clutches. They're victims of a curse that's made them into pirate versions of the Flying Dutchman, doomed to wander the world until the malediction is finally undone. That involves the pendant, and that's where her fate gets intertwined with Jack, who's fresh from his own scrape with death and could be just the one to help her out - if he isn't too knavish, roguish, or just plain weird to pull off the required derring-do.
It's too bad director Gore Verbinski can't figure out to integrate the screenplay's different modes - seagoing adventure, ironic romance, and delirious horror in the undead-pirate scenes. The movie is marvelously filmed, though, with visual touches recalling fantasy specialists Terry Gilliam and Ray Harryhausen, among others.
My main complaint - there's too much emphasis on action - will strike the film's young target audience as a see-worthy virtue rather than a fault. They'll find it a swashbuckling treat, and for others it's not as bad as being keelhauled by several of the season's other pictures.
Credit for that goes to Cap'n Depp, who's becoming a more interesting actor with every passing year. Yo ho ho and a bottle of Diet Coke, with extra-buttered popcorn on the side!
• Rated PG-13; contains violence.