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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Like the Disneyland ride that inspired the movie series, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" rolls from one envelope-pushing special effects sequence to another with little connective tissue. The filmmakers seem cheerfully resolved that narrative never get in the way of buccaneer fun. Cannibals, sword fights, a sea monster, tavern brawls, supernatural sailors and harrowing escapes hit the screen in such bewildering profusion that all sense of purpose is swallowed up in this heady boys' adventure run amok. There is, in fact, only one purpose: Give Johnny Depp room to perform the Great Lounge Act of the Seven Seas.

Anticipation is huge for the middle film in this projected pirate trilogy, so "Dead Man's Chest" should equal if not surpass the $656 million worldwide gross of 2003's "The Curse of the Black Pearl." Most of the crew has reunited under the helm of producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski, including Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, as the second and third films were shot simultaneously in Caribbean locales.

Depp is less a swashbuckler than a swishbuckler as he prances and preens through the movie with a bemused scowl on his face and the devil-may-care attitude of a hero who knows things will turn out well. He is the comic gel that holds the whole enterprise together. The performance is a total delight that somehow combines Bugs Bunny, Peter Pan and Charlie Chaplin.

"Dead Man's Chest" revolves around a blood debt Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) owes to Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), the legendary fiend aboard his ghostly ship, the Flying Dutchman. To escape this fate, Captain Jack must recover a key that will open a buried chest containing his nemesis' still-beating heart.

Others want to seize this chest, however, most particularly the East India Trading Co.'s Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander). He imprisons Will Turner (Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) before their wedding on trumped-up charges so that Will is motivated to beat Captain Jack to the prize. Along the way are encounters with Will's father, Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgard), who long ago lost his soul to Davy Jones; a blackened-tooth Jamaican soothsayer, Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris); and Mercer (David Schofield), Beckett's informer in ne'er-do-well disguise.

Many characters are unearthly creatures with extreme physiologies -- essentially bloated, decaying, barnacle-encrusted corpses of dead sailors arisen zombielike to terrorize the sea. Their leader, Davy Jones, is the movie's most amazing creature. His head is that of an octopus whose many tentacles wiggle, glower and reach out ominously as he rages against all living beings. This imagery gets repeated in his pet sea monster, Kraker, a giant version of his head.

Nighy does a great job of getting across his tormented character despite his face being hidden behind special effects. Knightley, who gets lovelier with each picture, makes a stout-hearted heroine, adept at physical action yet demure when need be. Bloom, though, is too much in earnest as if he were playing Errol Flynn rather than a comic version of same.

If one wants to carp about such things, this family adventure has morphed into something decidedly odd, though perhaps it fits the zeitgeist: The film overflows with as much gleeful sadism as a PG-13 rating can contain. Birds pluck eyes from living captives, a father must whip the flesh from his son's back, Captain Jack is prepared for roasting, and the threat of rape clearly looms over Elizabeth as she languishes in prison.

The whole pirate stew is flavored with moral fuzziness. The movie views pirates, who rob and murder on the high seas, as exemplars of fun-loving freedom; the East India Trading Company -- admittedly an imperialistic global corporation but nevertheless one that wants to rid the seas of homicidal criminals -- represents the forces of repression.

This production is a vast, expensive, sprawling affair that never feels out of control thanks to Verbinski's assured direction. Dariusz Wolski's cinematography superbly admires Rich Heinrich's lavish sets, while Hans Zimmer's busy though effective score -- he makes nice use of organ music -- pumps the action.

The film also marks the debut of a snappy new logo for Walt Disney Pictures that gives Sleeping Beauty's Castle a glittering cityscape in which to shine.







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