The best way to go into Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is to think of it as the first film in a brand new franchise; a franchise in which mermaids love men zombies won’t eat you and a Fountain of Youth exists but all laws of logic reasoning and competent storytelling don’t. Although screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio were smart enough to sever the narrative ties to the first two sequels in their franchise’s fourth outing the latest swashbuckling adventure in the series shares most of the same faults its predecessors faced.
Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) steps in for Gore Verbinski in On Stranger Tides but you’ll be hard-pressed to find his contributions to the already-flashy film that finds our hero Capt. Jack Sparrow (the inimitable Johnny Depp) on the hunt for the fore mentioned fountain. Of course he’s not the only one looking for eternal life: also in tow are nameless stereotypical Spaniards the English crown headed by a reformed Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Blackbeard a ruthless pirate who looks and sounds a lot like Ian McShane. Their paths cross on numerous occasions as the story scrambles across the map culminating in a splashy battle in a magical meadow where Ponce de Leon’s greatest discovery lies.
Less a cohesive story and more a collection of individual set pieces linked together by nonsensical dialogue and supernatural occurrences the film isn’t all that hard to follow if you don’t strain yourself doing so. The sequence of events collide so conveniently for the characters you can’t help but call the screenplay anything but the result of complacency while the film itself sails so swiftly from point to point it’s actually a waste of time to dwell on plot holes and motives. Disrupting its momentum (which is one of the few things the film has going for it) is an unwatchable romance between Sam Claflin’s missionary Philip and Syrena (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) one of a handful of murderous mermaids who do battle with Blackbeard’s crew. Their bland courtship will have you begging for Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley to return to the high seas and that’s saying something.
The all-female fish people are one of a few additions to the Pirates world but their effect on the film is negligible outside of being the impetus for the coolest action sequence in the picture and perhaps the most unnerving of the series. The others include Penelope Cruz as Blackbeard’s busty daughter Angelica and Stephen Graham as shipmate Scrum. The former feels out of place among the cartoony happenings but provides much needed sass while the latter fills in for Kevin McNally’s Gibbs for much of the film and is a pleasure to watch for some hammy comedic moments.
As always however this is Depp’s show and he continues to put a smile on my face with his charisma and theatrical presence. Even though he’s operating on autopilot throughout you can’t help but marvel at his energy and enthusiastic output as he literally fuels the fun in the film. The same can be said of Rush who’s given a meatier and more significant arc this time around. He trades quips with Depp as if they were a golden-age comedy duo and they remain the most appealing attraction in the franchise. Though he brings an undeniable sense of danger to the picture I was sadly underwhelmed by McShane’s Blackbeard a character with such a domineering reputation and imposing look he should’ve been stealing scenes left and right. Instead I felt he phoned his performance in though that could’ve been the result of Marshall’s indirection.
No better than the genre-bending original but a slight improvement over Dead Man’s Chest and At Worlds End On Stranger Tides suffers centrally from lack of a commanding captain. Marshall’s role is relegated to merely on-set facilitator or perhaps liaison between legions of talented craftspeople that make the movie look so good. Whatever vision he had for this venture if he had a unique take at all is chewed up and spit out by the engines of the Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster factory rendering the film as mechanical as the ride from which it is based.
Former cellmates Michael (Russell) and Murphy (Costner) are leaders of a posse that plans to pull off the heist of a lifetime: robbing the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas during International Elvis Week. This means of course adopting full-on spangled jumpsuits sunglasses and "thank yuh thank yuh vurry much"-es. But when Murphy turns against the crew to keep all the loot for himself Michael escapes with it instead and heads for the border to launder it. He's sidelined along the way by a dalliance with a grifter (Courteney Cox) and her young son. Meanwhile Murphy's hot on his trail.
Costner turned down the chance to play Russell's part to take on the villain instead - and he looks like he's having the time of his life. Less filled out but more amoral than his baddie in the underrated "A Perfect World " Costner bats well as a foil to Russell who shows a barely visible vulnerability under the necessary roughness. Cox to her credit does a complete 180 from her uptight role on "Friends" as the sexually aggressive con-chick Cybil. Christian Slater David Arquette and Bokeem Woodbine make small appearances as part of the Elvis crew Howie Long and Ice-T kick some tail and Kevin Pollak and the long-absent Thomas Haden Church ("Wings") provide comic relief as bumbling lawmen.
"3000 Miles to Graceland" may seem like a caper reminiscent of last month's "Snatch " except there's a lot of bloodshed particularly during the casino robbery where machine gun blasts fling people across the room to land on cha-ching!-ing slot machines. Novice director Demian Lichtenstein's music video background is evident in his Guy Ritchie-esque cuts zooms and a way-bizarre computerized scorpion fight that kicks off the movie (what was that about?). His style and the Vegas ambience give the film a kitschy edge that disappears once the guys shed their Elvis garb. Stay for the credits - you'll see a costumed Russell lip-synching in his own music video as Costner Cox and crew dance about.
Once respected NYPD detective Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is now pretty much on his last legs literally and figuratively. He drinks is relegated to a desk job and walks with a limp. One morning after a long shift he’s corralled into transporting a petty criminal Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) to the courthouse 16 blocks away so he can testify by 10:00 a.m. What Jack doesn’t know is that Eddie is one of the key witnesses in a case against crooked cops--that is until the two start getting shot at. Then it becomes crystal clear. The main bad guy Jack’s former partner Frank (David Morse) basically lets Jack know Eddie will never testify to just go ahead and hand him over but Frank underestimates Jack’s desire to finally do something good. So Jack and Eddie fight their way to the courthouse block by gut-wrenching block. Oh no there’s nothing formulaic about 16 Blocks not at all. In a film as predictable as this the only thing that’ll make it stand out is the performances. 16 Blocks nearly succeeds--but not quite. It would seem Willis is playing a character he’s played a hundred times before--the misunderstood and slightly unorthodox cop with a heart of gold. But as Jack the actor does a nice job trying out some new things namely playing fat bald and grizzled. You can almost smell how bad Jack’s breath has to be. Rapper/actor Mos Def who usually brightens any film he’s in also tries his hand at something different but his choices aren’t as smart. As the talkative and affable Eddie Mos comes up with one of the more annoying nasally accents ever recorded. After about five minutes of screen time you desperately want him to stop and say “Just kidding! I don’t really talk like this.” But he doesn’t. It’s too bad something like an accent can ruin an otherwise decent performance. Old-school director Richard Donner best known for his Lethal Weapons is a consummate professional when it comes to making these kind of movies. In other words he pretty much paints by numbers. We watch Jack and Eddie get out of one tight situation after another as the gaggle of bad cops try to gun them down. I mean 16 blocks doesn’t seem that far to go so they better throw in as many highly implausible obstacles as they can. Chinese laundries alleyways rooftops subways. And yes even a city bus which the pair--who have by now bonded big time--has to hijack. Donner also employs a popular but nonetheless annoying technique of zooming in when the action heats up so you can’t really see what’s going on. Even if you’re addicted to action movies--a Bruce Willis action movie no less--16 Blocks just doesn’t deliver the goods.
It's very hard to top Michael Jackson, but Lisa Marie Presley seems to think she's done it.
Elvis' daughter, who married Jackson in May 1994 (and divorced him 20 months later), will marry again -- this time to rock singer John Oszajea, her spokesman, Paul Bloch, said Tuesday. The happy couple met in May and became engaged just before Christmas.
The story goes that Oszajea, 25, first went to Presley's mother, Priscilla Presley, to ask for her daughter's hand in marriage. After receiving her blessing, Oszajea formally proposed to Presley, 32.
For those of you keeping track, this will be Lisa's third go with a musician -- first husband Danny Keough, then the Gloved One, now Oszajea (due to release his first album this year).
All this rocker influence is finally rubbing off on her: Lisa Marie's currently recording her first album, as well.
QUICK TAKES: Jim Carrey, who won the best comedy-musical actor Golden Globe for "Man on the Moon", apparently left out a lot of people in his acceptance speech, so he made up for it with an ad in today's Hollywood Reporter. This time, he made sure to thank Andy Kaufman, the late comedian he portrayed, as well as the comic's family. Better late than never ...
...Christian Slater will wed girlfriend Ryan Haddon on Feb. 12, USA Today reports. The two have a 9-month-old son, Jaden Christopher ...
... Ralph Fiennes is angry over the rating slapped on his latest film, "The End of the Affair," by British censors. London's Daily Express quotes Fiennes as expressing concern that the rating (the U.K. equivalent of the NC-17) will scare off older audiences concerned by the (relative) threat of the sex scenes. "It is absurd. ... I don't think the sex in the film is sadistic, abusive or violent. I cannot understand the decision," Fiennes says ...
... Supermodel Naomi Campbell will no longer be strutting her stuff on the catwalk, specifically the ones in New York and London. The 29-year-old British beauty finds her schedule "very stressful" and says she would like to cut back. But rest assured: Campbell says she hasn't decided what to do about the Milan catwalk. We wait with baited breath ...
AILING: "Ally McBeal" star Lisa Nicole Carson, who plays Ally's feisty roommate Renée Radick, is recovering at home after a two-week hospital stay for treatment of an undisclosed medical condition, reps for the hit Fox show say. Carson, 30, was discharged earlier this week, but at the request of the actress' family, details of her medical condition are being kept private. Her character had been absent from "Ally McBeal" the past few weeks, but Carson plans to return once she's recovered ...
... Rocker Jerry Lee Lewis, 64, was hospitalized for an allergic reaction to a drug administered after cutting his finger, his father said Tuesday. The singer, best known for the song "Great Balls of Fire," cut his finger with a knife at his home in Nesbitt, Miss., and was taken to an unidentified Memphis hospital. Lewis' reaction was a result of shots given to kill his pain and treat infection, and he was then taken to Methodist Central Hospital in Memphis, where officials refused to release information on his condition. ...
"GREEN" SMILE: Michael Clarke Duncan, the Golden Globe-nominated actor from "The Green Mile," has been named ShoWest's Male Star of Tomorrow. The National Association of Theater Owners will hand Duncan the honors during its convention March 6-9 in Las Vegas. Previous winners include Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Johnny Depp.
Of course, the honor also has gone to the likes of football player-turned-actor-turned-sportscaster Howie Long, whose first headlining film, "Firestorm," went up in smoke.
In other ShoWest news, composer John Williams is set to be honored with the convention's first Maestro Award. Williams, if you don't know, recently composed "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" and "Angela's Ashes."
PUDDING HEADS: Billy Crystal and Jamie Lee Curtis have been named this year's recipients of Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Man and Woman of the Year awards. No, they won't be sampling Jell-O for the masses. Rather, Curtis, 41, will lead a parade through Harvard Square on Feb. 10, and Crystal, 52, will wear a bra and wig at a roast in his honor Feb. 17. The awards are a tradition of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals Organization, which counts male students dressed in drag among its members. Previous winners include Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, Michelle Pfeiffer and Meg Ryan.
OSCAR WATCH: Defending Oscar champs Steven Spielberg and Gwyneth Paltrow have been confirmed as presenters for the 72nd Annual Academy Awards on March 26 at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium. "Double Jeopardy" heroine Ashley Judd and "Anna and the King" star Chow Yun-Fat are also set to present.
But, frankly, we're more excited about the upcoming Screen Actors Guild Awards on March 12 because award-show ham Roberto Benigni will be presenting the statue for Outstanding Female Lead Film Performance. Look for Benigni to make an Oscar appearance, too. Like Spielberg and Paltrow, he, too, is a defending champ. Albeit, a more effusive one.