'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest'

Depp delivers again in swashbuckling sequel

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Let's come out (in more ways than one) instead of beating around the cinematic bush: What would you get if a mainstream-blockbuster pirate hero seemed not subtly but overtly gay? The question is not rhetorical. The answer is, you'd get "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."

Peter Mountain, Associated Press/Disney Enterprises
Jack Davenport, Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp draw swords in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."
Click photo for larger image.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"

Rating: PG-13 for intense adventure violence and frightening images.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy.
Director: Gore Verbinski.
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Faithful readers who memorize my reviews, which is advisable, recall that Johnny Depp's fabulously fey, foppish performance as Capt. Jack Sparrow in "POC #1" (2003) struck me and many others as a kind of high-seas Keith Richard. I was an unabashed fan of that portrayal, and still am. But Depp in "POC #2" is, as Nabokov would say, a horse of a different story.

You thought Jack was sexually ambiguous before? This second time around, he and his intrigues are even more idiosyncratic. Having disposed of the curse of the Black Pearl, he now faces the more terrifying one of the Flying Dutchman and his pact with its devil-of-a-skipper, Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). Can he get out of it? Can he locate that chest containing the one and only thing that trumps Davy's hand? Can he escape the cannibals of Tortuga? Get the better of sea monsters that include the malevolent Mother of All Octopi?

Oh, and can loverly Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) get to the church on time?

Ted Elliott's and Terry Rossio's current script gives us the East India Trading Company as the evil Enron empire of the 18th century, its corporate greed making the world unsafe for private-enterprise piracy and fun-luvin' gay-blade buccaneers like Jack. They and director Gore Verbinski also give us a weirdly unintelligible rasta-soothsayer (Naomi Harris) whose relevant sorcery and significance eluded me.

The impact of "POC #2" comes not from them but from visual F/X supervisor John Knoll's truly spectacular sea megamonster, rising and submerging and sucking down ships at will, and from the makeup artists (and dental-technicians-from-hell) responsible for the hideous look of the Dutchman's crew -- especially the no-nose, no-nonsense Nighy's beard of slimy, writhing octopus tentacles instead of hair growing out of his chin. Terrific and entertaining in every scene.

But many of the other barnacle-encrusted creatures are "Star Wars" or "Indiana Jones" knock-offs, as are some of the chase-action and rolling cage-ball gimmicks, shamelessly copped from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" Similarly, Davy's "Abominable Dr. Phibes" routine at the organ is borrowed from Vincent Price, while the Tortuga sequence features Depp's shish kebabing by bone-in-the-nose aborigines, just a step removed from the "feet, do yo' stuff!" natives of '30s jungle flicks.

Knightley and Bloom are perfectly adequate, if wholly unchallenged, in their reprised roles. Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook as the bickersome philosopher-pal pirates Pintel and Ragetti are an effective comic-relief team. Nighy is excellent.

But the guy we really care about is Johnny Depp, one of the most brilliantly charismatic actors of our (or anybody's) day. "Edward Scissorhands," "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," "Ed Wood," "Finding Neverland" -- take your pick. Everything he does has been delightfully original. With his long dreadlocks and braided beard, beads and baubles, eyeliner and mascara, amoral sexuality and irreverence, Depp's original scalawag Jack Sparrow was "a pirate the likes of which audiences had never seen before."

That was official studio-speak, meaning -- and dancing around the fact -- that he seemed very gay. It was bizarre and daring in "POC #1." But in "POC #2," Depp takes mincing to new heights -- running and flailing with upraised arms, emitting girlish squeals from one set-piece situation to another, camping it up not just partially but entirely for laughs this time and losing any hint of his previous macho-hetero edge. Why a heroine would be so attracted -- or a crew would be so loyal -- to this guy is strictly occult.

OK. So be it. No harm done. It's about yuks. But since the name of Disney's game with this series is less the immediate box-office success than the long-range lucrative theme parks, maybe Mickey Mouse should greet the new horde of red-blooded American "Pirates" patrons at Anaheim and Orlando in drag as Minnie, and conduct an exit interview about that constitutional marriage amendment on their way out.

Walt Disney Pictures
David Bailie, Mackenzie Crook, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley.
Click photo for larger image.

Post-Gazette film critic Barry Paris can be reached at parispg48@aol.com .


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