What goes around comes around, as we all know, so it stands to reason that "Pirates of the Caribbean," which started its life as a ride at Disneyland, should feel so much like a ride at Disneyland - and little more - in its fourth movie incarnation, "On Stranger Tides."
You were expecting something else? Why? The "story" here stopped being written by scriptwriters, and was taken over by the accountants in the front office as soon as the folks at Disney got busy on the first sequel.
In fact, there's never really been a "story" to any of the Pirates films beyond Johnny Depp's inspired decision to mold his buccaneer Capt. Jack Sparrow after rascally Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards, and to add eyeliner and a mincing walk to basic swashbuckling behavior. Such is the stuff of movie genius, and those who possess it don't need any of that extraneous stuff, like a script.
Oh, there is a story of sorts to this fourth installment in the franchise. It involves another legendary pirate, Blackbeard (Ian McShane), some vampire mermaids, a few zombie crew members, old nemesis Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) and Penelope Cruz. She plays Angelica, a sultry pirate herself and an able match for Capt. Jack in the can't-live-with-'em-can't-live-without-'em romantic banter.
They're all on a race against time to find the fountain of youth, although trying to connect the dots to make the script make sense doesn't feel worth the effort. Even with Rob Marshall taking over the directing duties from Gore Verbinsky and adding choreographic flourishes to the action, the whole thing feels less like storytelling than plundering the script for the occasional jewel.
Depp is so at home in Jack Sparrow's who-cares demeanor, he makes it an asset. He can get away with doing most of his "acting" with his eyes alone, along with droll readings of throwaway lines. For him, phoning it in is a form of art. He knows he's what the crowds have come to see, and utterly seems at peace shouldering that huge responsibility - leaving lots of room to wink at the audience along the way.
Hey, when you've got it, flaunt it -which in his case is a compliment, not a complaint. It's the difference between being a movie star and just an actor, although few can match Depp at being both.
And if watching him becomes redundant, you can always fixate on the always fiery and fascinating Cruz, looking for signs of her pregnancy during the filming that the costume department and camera angles did their best to conceal.
Although "Pirates" sequels are the kinds of films critics love to plunder for their own punny headlines and dull stabs at rapierlike wit, they do so at their own peril. Folks like Depp, Cruz, Rush and director Marshall are not only more worldly, more honored and way better paid than most of us, they're also more clever. When they do the lowest common denominator, they can't help raising it several notches.
There are enough Oscars and nominations scattered through the credits to remind you "Pirates" isn't dumb -it's highbrow dumb. So you can't remember what happened as soon as you leave the theater? So what? That's the point. That's how rides work.
Luckily, not all movie news these days is being written on the bottom line. "Get a Job" writer-director Brian Kohne's wacky, entirely made-on-Maui comedy is making waves on the festival circuit. Fresh from winning the audience award at the Big Island Film Festival, Brian received news that the romp with Willie K, Eric Gilliom and a host of Maui co-stars and extras has been accepted by the Las Vegas Film Festival.
The Maui Film Festival, returning to Wailea and the MACC June 15 to 19, has announced its latest va-va-voom luminary: Megan Fox will receive its new Iris Award. Probably best known for her "Transformers" rolls, the young actress will accept the honor at a gala opening-night ceremony at the festival's majestic outdoor Celestial Cinema, followed by a screening of "Na Nai'a: Legend of the Dolphins," in which she shares the narrating duties with a host of other stars. (For more festival news, see Page 6.)
And coming up June 4, the inaugural Huliau Youth Environmental Film Festival comes to the Historic Iao Theater. This new entry into the suddenly crowded field of Maui-based cinema features six new environmental films by budding filmmakers ages 12 to 18. (Admission to benefit this nonprofit program is $15, $7 for youth 18 and younger, $30 for reserved seating; more information available at mauihuliau foundation.org.)
The work of these young creators won't be mistaken for Johnny Depp's yet. But it's definitely a hopeful start.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.