Sailing in circles

Pirates franchise lost at sea

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 2.0

Who would’ve imagined a ride that opened at Disneyland in 1967 would turn into a swashbuckling blockbuster four-film franchise?

Johnny Depp is back in black eyeliner, with a new slew o’ mateys joining him on Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides, and as always, he shines and swaggers as Jack Sparrow, the ultimate trickster who charms his way in and out of trouble. This time, it’s rough sailing when he ends up on the ship of legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane). The evil Blackbeard forces our fave cap’n to help him find the elusive Fountain of Youth to avoid prophecies of his own murder. Along the way, they encounter a scorned lover (Penélope Cruz as Angelica), menacing mermaids, and plenty of good, if not so clean, pirate fun.

As a stand-alone film, this would be amusing enough. But it was hard to be excited about a movie that offered only a slightly different experience from the previous three installments. From the sailing ships to the sword fights, I couldn’t help but think I’d seen it all before. And when it didn’t feel familiar, it often felt convoluted with unnecessary sub-plots and confusing sequences. We get that Blackbeard wants to live longer, so why does it take 2 1/2 hours to explore this?

But No. 4 is certainly entertaining. The film knows it’s a spectacle, and it succeeds in that respect. The special effects are seamless, and the sequences with the shimmering sea mermaids are particularly beautiful. If nothing else, you gotta love Depp, who brings sexy back to the filthy-pirate character.

With proposed fifth and sixth films on the way, I can’t help but wonder when producer Jerry Bruckheimer will finally recognize the difference between the films and their amusement-park inspiration: The ride may have been built for repeated enjoyment, but can that translate to the big screen?