Who's In It: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane

The Basics: Now that Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley have evaporated into the ocean mist, all that's left between bad pirates and all the treasure in the world is Jack Sparrow. His evolution from wisecracking, drunken Greek chorus to lead character is finally complete, so it's up to him to juggle three crews of seafarers, all of them after the Fountain of Youth. The Spanish want it; the British (led by Sparrow's old adversary Barbossa) want it; and now Penelope Cruz and Blackbeard (McShane) want it, too. Add pointless zombies, some Russ-Meyer-meets-Piranha 3D mermaids and a minister tempted out of faith by his very own Ariel. Shake it all up in one of those bottles with a ship inside it (this time it's Sparrow's Black Pearl, miniaturized, animated and stuck) and it's... something. I don't know.

What's The Deal: There was a moment for me in the last installment, somewhere around the 90-minute mark where I knew there were about 90 minutes still left to go, when I realized that I had no idea what was going on in the movie. And I didn't care that I didn't know. It was freeing, somehow, to be watching a possibly endless example of empty sensation. It stopped mattering who was doing what to whom or why. I felt like a dog with an invisible hand scratching my belly while my leg twitched involuntarily. You don't analyze that kind of thing, but you do walk away from it and realize, in the part of your mind that thinks, that it wasn't good, even as you feel sated and pleasured. Well, I'm over that feeling now. This is the shortest movie in the Pirates bunch and it seemed five hours long, and whatever hypnotic spell it used to cast on me isn't effective anymore. Maybe the franchise didn't change; maybe I did. Either way, we're breaking up. I'm bored.

Discrete Moments Of Pleasure: I liked that there was an incredibly elaborate, choreographed stunt scene involving Sparrow--who apparently requires desserts at any cost--swinging around high up in the air, jumping out a window, straddling moving carriages and a flaming coal truck all in the name of stealing a delicious cream puff. It was almost as good as the flying kung fu-vampire-mermaid attack sequence. The rest is a lot of doofus padding with decently executed 3D--the old-school kind where they just throw a lot of stuff at your face--and Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz trading PG-rated double entendres about swords-as-penises and "the missionary's position."

Two Cameos That'll Make You Wish They Were Sticking Around On Screen A Little Longer And One That'll Make You Scratch Your Head And Think Incorrect, Ungenerous Thoughts About The Positive Effects Of Sobriety: First, Keith Richards. After turning in an awesomely drunkish mini-performance in the last movie, one where he reportedly required literal propping up while on camera, here he seems boringly lucid. He's seated, having an actual plot-specific conversation with Depp. Nobody wants to see that. More sympathy for the devil, please, less real attempts at acting. But before then Judi Dench pops up as a horny Society Lady with a jones for Depp and Richard Griffiths (Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter movies) as a wiggy, lispy, lip-smacky King George. His two minutes earn him the distinction of being the funniest guy in the movie.


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