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Dead Man’s Chest (12/03/2006)
By David Robinson

Due out on video and DVD this week, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest delivers almost exactly what you would expect, and it does so fairly well. It has just the right ingredients to keep drawing the much-wooed rental/purchase audience: adventure, comedy, a love story, and, of course, the promise of a sequel next year. (The current entrry and the next one were shot at the same time, a money-saving move which we can expect to see more of in these big-budget shows.) Most important, it has a star turn by Johnny Depp which takes his performance in the first one a notch higher, sometimes edging over the top.

Depp is Captain Jack Sparrow of the pirate ship The Black Pearl, and he's the best thing the film has going for it. Oh, there are lots of special effects, a credible enough romantic pair in Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, and a creepy villain in Davy Jones, played under a ton of writhing makeup by Bill Nighey. The excuse for getting the action going is that Jack owes Davy a rather large debt: his soul. Oh, there's also a plot involving Jack's compass, which points toward what the possessor wants most, as well as a romantic triangle which gets more messy towards the end rather than more clearly defined.

This and some other moves by screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio point unmistakably to the third episode which will, presumably, clear matters up. Since the present number contains a number of confusing issues, any such clarification would help. Director Gore Verbinski does wonderfully with the action sequences, an entertaining mixture of comedy and derring-do. The special effects-heavy scenes are less successful: Verbinski falls into the trap so common in these films, that of leaving in too much repetitive footage, needlessly drawing out these scenes and diminishing their impact.

The Big Action scenes also reduce the time on screen for Depp, who is the film's central appeal. He does frequently participate, of course, particularly in one involving a duel taking place on a large mill wheel in which Captain Jack has become trapped"while it is rolling downhill. But he is best in his quieter moments, where Sparrow's twitchy, fey personality comes through. Depp has confided that the initial portrait of Jack was based on Keith Richard, who (rumor has it) makes a cameo appearance in the next installment. Here, the model seems closer to Boy George on a controlled substance. Depp minces, scowls, and wheedles brilliantly. He acts as well with his eyes and eyebrows as he does with his whole body, and he handles Jack's inflated diction without turning him into a burlesque of the pirate film hero to whom his character refers.

Kids will enjoy the technical wizardry of Industrial Light and Magic, adults will appreciate the makeup and "creature concepts" wrought by Ve Neill and Crash McCreery and the scenes realized by an army of digital artists. The "PG-13" rating feels a bit stretched to me, given the gore and some bits of innuendo. Be around to watch it with your kids.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest did record business last summer and will likely prove popular during the holiday season.. I have yet to talk to anyone who didn't like it, though some complained that the ending left them hanging. But that, of course, is the point: sinking the hook in for Pirates III. 


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