Pirates of the Carribean
starring Johnny Depp and Kiera Knightly
4 stars

Maybe four stars is pushing it, but damn the cannons: Pirates of the Carribean is a hoot and a half, which translates to 3.75 stars, so I rounded up.

In a summer dominated by mutants and Hulks and Neos and angels and Terminators, pirates may seem a little quaint. "What's fun about pirates?" one might ask. Ah, but really, if you think about it, what's *not* fun about pirates? Pirates are all yardam-swingin' and grog-swillin' and deck-swabbin' and sword-fightin' and cannon-blastin' and "ar!"-sayin' and slender beautiful girls in soaked white dresses. What's not to like?

Yep, pirates are a blast, and so is this movie. The nicest thing about Pirates of the Carribean is that it's not a sequel and it's not an adaptation of some other thing (well, okay, technically it's adapted from the Disneyland ride, but it's not like anybody's bringing huge narrative expectations from the ride into the movie). As a result, there's a fresh-faced willingness to please in this movie, a recognition that it can't trade on assumed familiarity with the characters or automatic enthusiasm for the premise. Instead, Pirates of the Carribean knows it has to do the work, set the tone, establish its world and get us on side with the characters the way a summer blockbuster should.

Chief among these characters is Johnny Depp as Captain --Captain!-- Jack Sparrow. Depp's always been great in these kinds of slightly off-kilter roles, whether it's Edward in Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood in Ed Wood, or Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and here he gives a tipsy, flouncing, swaying performance that zings and zings. Captain Sparrow is almost completely gay, but the difference between "almost completely gay" and "completely gay" gives an actor like Depp all the room in the world to have a ball. Whether he's getting punched in the face and not deserving it or grinningly making off with the fastest ship on the sea, he is, in the words of a stuffy naval Brit in a wig, "the best pirate I've ever seen", slurring his words, stumbling from side to side, tossing out rakish glances and overconfident smirks like gold coins. 

Also entirely yummilicious is Keira Knightly, the aforementioned slender girl we last saw in Bend it Like Beckham. She's beautiful, of course, full-lipped, almond-eyed, decrying her corset in the one lame joke that of course had to make it into the trailer. That joke aside, she's winning throughout, gamely splashing around, showing guts and fire as necessary, dealing with shipfuls of ghost pirates with admirable aplomb. 

But performances aside, it's the tone that makes this flick work. Pirates of the Carribean hums with belief in its own world. The gags aren't hip, ironic or contemporary; the movie isn't pre-digested like Terminator 3 or Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. No, the humor is situation-and-character-based, and while it runs along the family-friendly lines you'd expect from a movie adapted from a Disney ride, it's still got a lot of charm. And, of course, the movie is loaded with details, from the fullsome costumes to the full-scale ships and even to the eventual CGI pirate-into-ghost-pirate transitions. There's a pirate with a wandering wooden eye who's good for a chuckle, and it's fun to see a pirate tavern where the bar fights are just the constant background noise. 

It's not a perfect summer movie. Orlando Bloom can't quite bring his Legolas powers to bear against Depp's performance, though he intenses it up as best he can in the straight man role. Like most modern blockbusters, Pirates of the Carribean could stand to lose 10 minutes or so, but even then, it never hits that drag point where you suddenly get impatient and want to get out of there. At worst you're getting maybe just a little bit tired of the word "pirate" by the end, but that's about the most annoying thing in there. No, Pirates of the Carribean is simple, but not retarded; lush, but not overbearing. It's yummy pirate goodness! Check it out!