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Can anything keep Captain Jack Sparrow down? Well, as long as Johnny Depp plays the offbeat pirate of the high seas, as he does in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the answer is "Not bloody likely, mate!" This fourth installment of the Pirates franchise is jolly good fun--nearly as good as the first one, in fact. The writing is crisp, the action amazing--and there's the addition of a foe finally the match of Captain Jack: Ian McShane as the dreaded, and dreadful, Blackbeard. McShane seems to be having as much fun as Depp, and that's saying something--channeling his dastardly character on Deadwood but keeping his epithets rated PG-13. Adding to the festivities is the winsome Penélope Cruz, as Angelica, a woman with a past entwined with Jack Sparrow's. Angelica now might be a fearsome pirate herself--or maybe just a cunning con artist tugging at Sparrow's heartstrings.
The action in On Stranger Tides centers on the quest to find the legendary Fountain of Youth in the Americas. But the plot, of course, is incidental in the Pirates films. From the earliest scenes, it's clear the action, and Depp's winking at the camera, are the stars. Captain Jack stages a giant food fight in front of the King of England, culminating in a chandelier scene worthy of The Phantom of the Opera, and he's off at a gallop. Along for the ride are previous cast members Geoffrey Rush who's sold out and is now an unctuous representative of His Majesty's Navy; loyal sidekick Kevin McNally, who narrowly escapes a death sentence, and then celebrates by leaping on board Captain Jack's fraught mission; and Keith Richards as Jacky's dad, who speaks few words, but wise ones. There are even zombie pirates, and a mysterious mermaid. Pirates of the Caribbean isn't suitable for viewers under 8 or so, because it's dark and intense in spots, but otherwise, it's a rollicking good popcorn film. --A.T. Hurley