For another, the supremely charismatic Chow Yun-Fat (Crouching Tiger, Curse of the Golden Flower) is aboard as Capt. Sao Feng. The Singapore-based buccaneer has eyes for Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley, looking great in slouch boots) who, it seems, no longer has eyes for Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, the human Bermuda Triangle, sucking the life out of these action-adventure flicks).
The film is set in an era when the armada of the East India Co. hangs pirates to make the seven seas safe for its corporate endeavors. Barbossa, Feng and Sparrow are three of nine freebooters united to preserve the pirate way of life. Or would be, if anyone could find Sparrow, hostage of Davy Jones' Locker, a kind of saltwater anteroom of hell.
Here the seas are high in more ways than one. The movie finds Jack - some time before his pirate brethren do - as he's experiencing the effects of demon rum. Jack's imaginary vessel has run aground in the desert sands, a striking image that brings to mind the title structure in Howl's Moving Castle.
Jack spits at his hallucinations, which include a goateed and dreadlocked crew of himselves, "I wash my hands of this weirdness!" More's the pity, for his visions, with their affectionate satires of Being John Malkovich, The Gold Rush and Master and Commander, are the tastiest passages in the overdone picture.
What does it say about Gore Verbinski's movie that Jack's delusions are the most coherent thing? That the visual jokes are of the my-spyglass-is-bigger-than-yours variety? That not even the most extreme POTC-head can follow what in the Jolly Roger is going on?
Like Disney World, home of the theme-park ride that spawned this film franchise, POTC3 is unequally divided between princess and pirate attractions. There are the few sequences when Swann and Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) advance the plot and the many when the captains fight for the helm.
Verbinski fails to establish anything like a consistent tone or rhythm. For no particular reason the film is bathed in that serious moonlight blue of the battle of Helm's Deep in Lord of the Rings or gets drowned in the sepulchral green of Tales From the Crypt. The cinematography undermines the film's attempt at fun.
And while there was some nicely choreographed swordplay in the first POTC, here the duelists clunk and clank. One can only imagine what Yun-Fat, dazzling swordsman of Crouching Tiger, thought of his rust-scaled costars.
Such as Orlando Bloom. Like Harrison Ford, Bloom stars in two of the most popular movie franchises of all time. Unlike Ford, he makes little impression. Is he, in fact, a hair actor, whose golden My Little Pony mane in Lord of the Rings did his work for him? While Bloom seems like an affable-enough guy, as an action hero he's passive to the point of pointless.
Speaking of rust-scaled, yes, Keith Richards has a cameo as Jack Sparrow's sodden papa, looking like a human shipwreck. He offers words of wisdom about immortality, which shall not be quoted here, and Jack a brief reunion with his long-lost mum.
While sorting out which of the brigantines was which in the film's climactic battle between The Flying Dutchman and The Black Pearl, my thoughts drifted to Jack Sparrow. What more unlikely hero for Disney than this unmoored antihero, antithesis of its corporate standard?
Jack would seem to be offering his own movie review when he says, winking, "Just close your eyes and pretend it's a bad dream. That's how I get by."
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End **
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, directed by Gore Verbinski, written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, photography by Dariusz Wolski, music by Hans Zimmer, distributed by Buena Vista Pictures.
Running time: 2 hours, 48 mins.
Jack Sparrow. . . Johnny Depp
Barbossa. . . Geoffrey Rush
Will Turner. . . Orlando Bloom
Elizabeth Swann. . . Keira Knightley
Tia Dalma. . . Naomie Harris
Capt. Sao Feng. . . Chow Yun-Fat
Parent's guide: PG-13 (adventure violence, grotesque imagery)
Showing at: area theaters
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey
at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://go.philly.com/flickgrrl.