The Austin Chronicle

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Rated PG-13, 136 min. Directed by Rob Marshall. Starring Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin R. McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Stephen Graham, Keith Richards, Richard Griffiths.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 20, 2011

It's a Herculean task to steal the thunder from a Johnny Depp performance, but Richard Griffiths (best known these days as Harry Potter's tubby Muggle uncle, Vernon Dursley) does exactly that in this fourth installment of Disney's seafaring franchise. Griffiths' brief cameo as the obese, obdurate, and altogether entertaining King George II of England is a marvel of protracted vowels and crumpet-stuffing regality. He's Jabba the Hut in velvet brocade, sporting jowls that appear to extend somewhere south of his kingly staff. Bravo! Speaking of bloated wealth-makers, On Stranger Tides is an improvement on its nearly three-hours-long predecessor, if only because it's a relatively trim two hours and 16 minutes. That said, it's always going to be fun watching Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, be he becalmed (At Worlds End), besotted (as here, with Cruz's piratical Angelica, daughter of McShane's dreaded Blackbeard), or merely beleaguered – seemingly his lot in nautical life. This time out, Captain Jack and his old nemesis Barbossa (Rush, equally overboard, as ever) who has aligned himself with the Crown, race to locate Ponce de Leon's storied fountain of youth. Jackieboy wants to win back his beloved Black Pearl and keep his neck intact, if not necessarily in that order. Barbossa wants Blackbeard dead, being that he's the one responsible for a prior loss of limb, and Blackbeard wants what all pirates want: eternal life or something like it (like, say, a legend that a future film company could use to make billions of dollars). Mermaids play an important role in this story, but the ones here would probably turn Princess Ariel into a delicious makizushi repast. Far better than Verbinski's last two Pirates films, incoming director Rob Marshall (Chicago) keeps the subplots to a minimum, the action to the max, and Depp onscreen virtually throughout. Summer has arrived: More grog, please.

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