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Piratical Nonsense: Welcome to Pirate Week   (July 17, 2006)

Like every other site vying for your attention, we're not above catching a fair marketing breeze from a rich corporate ad campaign. So welcome to Pirate Week, in which we scavange off Disney's monstrosity of a swashbuckling mess, Pirates of the Caribbean II.

How bad is this movie? It's as aimless as the dime-store compass in Jack Sparrow's hand. OK, I admit, the movie's pretty darn terrific if you're 11 or 12. That's why I saw it in the company of an 11- and 12-year old. If a movie without causation or plot, a movie which strings together nonsensical scenes one after the other, doesn't bother you, then this is the pirate movie to see this summer. (It's also the only pirate movie this summer, but let's not quibble.)

It's instructive to go over just what makes this film so unsatisfactory. (It's almost as much fun--and much cheaper--than watching the actual movie.)

Standard-issue movies should have a central story. This one does not. You can really sense that the screenplay for this mulligan stew of a movie was written by committee. One guy thought of one plot, then the next hack added another, and so on until Disney finally pulled the plug and started shooting.

OK, the plot is: Captain Jack has a magic compass which points to whatever the owner really wants. Since it wanders randomly in Jack's hand, we have to wonder: Maybe Captain Jack doesn't know what he really wants, except to earn $10 million for over-acting as a pirate with Green-Day like eyeliner. (You know you're in trouble when the best makeup is worn by the pirate instead of the lass.)

But wait--there's more! That plot gets dropped, and another introduced: Young Will (Orlando Bloom) is imprisoned for helping Jack back in Movie #1, and his scrumptuous bride, the toothsome Keira Knightley (the only player in the movie with decent teeth--everyone else went to a near-sighted pirate dentist with plenty of silver and gold on hand), is tossed into the dungeon for good measure as well. Ah, but he can earn his freedom--and hers, natch--if he secures a key from Capt. Jack. A Key? So what happened to the dang compass? So sorry, it's a red herring now--until script doctor number 3 recalls that it needs to be brought along somehow.

OK, so there's a key, and some passing reference to a chest. But wait--there's more! Whilst searching for rum in the depths of his ship--which conveniently sails itself, judging by the crew sleeping 'tween decks--a barnacle-encrusted spirit approaches Jack and announces that he is cursed for denying Davy Jones--not the Monkee singer, unfortunately, but a squid-like personification of what was once a mere turn of phrase (as in Davy Jones' Locker). What exactly was the deal with Jones which Jack welched on, we're not sure--but no matter. Plot #4 is soon delivered up to replace the bit about the curse.

Script doctor #4 has a real pickle now--how the heck do we interweave all these overlaying plots? Here is his/her "genius" plot move: Will manages to find Capt. Jack (no problem, apparently, despite the vastness of the seas), and Capt. Jack cons him into boarding Davy's haunted ship, the Flying Dutchman, in order to secure the key from the monstrous writhing-tentacle-faced Jones.

The key To what? And how does this save Capt. Jack? Or dear Will? And what's with that dang compass that seemed so important? Oh yeah, and what does Will need to save luscious Keira again?

But wait--there's more! After an egregious visit to a voluptuous Voodoo Soothsayer deep in a Cajun swamp, young Will discovers his old pirate Dad has sold his soul to the calamari-faced King, Davy Jones. (Yes, dear old dad is the very same punter who showed up to warn Capt. Jack). After various bits of nonsensical action, Will then announces his one true goal is to free his father from the clutches of Davy Jones' horrible magic.

Except, as script doctor #5 recalls, wasn't he supposed to be saving Keira/Elizabeth? Oh, right! The solution: have her escape via stowing away on a conveniently located merchantship, which takes her to famous Pirates' Lair Tortuga, where she conveniently locates Capt. Jack and Will--and another new plot is brought on board by the disgraced English Commodore whom dashingly selfish Jack foiled in movie #1.

Whew! Who knew being a pirate would be so confusing?

Writing, or studying writing, including screenplays, causes one to look for subtexts--either conscious or subconscious in origin. And on behalf of the mixed blood in my family, I am rather outraged by the keenly unfunny racial undertones of this Disney offering.

At the start, we seem to have an ethnically mixed crew on board The Black Pearl: look, there's an Indian guy (with an actual speaking part, so we can "enjoy" his accent, how hilarious), an Asian dude (sorry, only one speaking part per minority here at Disney--good luck with your other bit parts), and a threatening-looking black guy. So far so good.

But let's put all the dark-skinned pirates in a separate woven prison-ball, and send them to their deaths while the dark-skinned cannibal "natives" run around foolishly as the fair-skinned noble pirates manage to escape. Then there's the other bit parts for blacks, which amount to a very short step up (or down) from roles in 30s movies--"yessuh, massah, that there is the beach, we speak creole most entertainingly to reveal our Caribbean roots," etc.

When the fair-skinned pirates return to the swamp to check in on the hot-chocolate soothsayer (who is fluent in mumbo-jumbo), the bayou is lined with black folks holding candles. Hey, don't the black folks have anything better to do than stand around holding candles when the fair Pirates enter the swamp like ruffian demi-gods?

And when Capt. Jack offers the Soothsayer a caged monkey as payment, I very desperately wanted her to say, "Hey, what do you take me for, chump? It's cash on the barrelhead, Mr. Mascara." Instead the Soothsayer meekly accepts the wretched monkey as payment. The beauteous fortune teller doesn't even seem to detect that Capt. Jack has pilfered one of the jewel-encrusted rings laying around her table--yet she knows Will's name, his social security number, and gasp!--his gmail password!

Talk about shuck and jive--whew.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this feeble CGI (computer generated images) jumble is this: Captain Jack, a fearsome, clever pirate captain, does virtually nothing. How about leading his crew on to battle for treasure? Nope. Fight the sea monster? No--Will takes over for that critical sequence. Swordfighting in the requisite bar-room brawl? Nope--Keira handles that swordplay sequence, light and lissome though she maybe. Jack merely mimics Tony Curtis in The Great Race pie-throwing scene, prancing through the mayhem untouched.

Pardon me while I gag. Is this guy a pirate? Then how come he doesn't do anything worthy of a pirate? Let's see: he cons his crew with verbal nonsense; how fey. Then he cons Will with-- more wordplay. Huh? Then he abandons ship when the giant octopus monster shows up--and then, aw shucks, script doctor #6 was so original--he returns in the nick of time to take the shot Beautiful Keira (so glowingly made up amidst the carnage of battle) couldn't quite manage, though she had no problem dispatching hordes of heavyset repulsive pirates in the bar-room brawl.

Oh, yeah. That compass thing--it works in dear Keira's delicate palm. But poor Keira--that bodice they squished you into--were they planning to give you a mammogram on the set or something?

Jack finally gets in a bit of swordplay in the last reel, but by then we no longer care who gets Davy Jones' beating heart. Exactly what does Jack need it for? Will is supposed to stab it, or something, and the disgraced Commodore wants it because it's the talisman which will give control of the seas to the evil, hegemonic, running dogs of capitalism East India Company. (Thank you, script doctor #7, for that force of evil. What would we do without the East India Company in this movie? Aren't a half-dozen or so villains enough?)

The 11-year old and her 12-year old sister both protested, by the way, when I opined that Capt. Jack didn't really do anything in the movie. "Oh, sure as if you could swordfight like him," came the jeering, cutting response. Maybe not, but I could prance around, get chosen to be cannibal king, filch a voodoo ring and stare at a dime-store compass just about as well--and so could you.

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copyright © 2006 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.

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