Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (12A)

Adrift on the high seas, me hearties
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The Independent Culture

There are quite a few imaginative set-pieces in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, the sequel to Disney's surprise hit of 2003. One of these has a water wheel rolling through a jungle. Orlando Bloom and Jack Davenport are sword-fighting on the rim of the wheel, Johnny Depp is inside it, like an exercising hamster, and all three are battling to get their hands on the key to a magical treasure chest.

It's a sequence you watch with detached admiration, with a sense that if you actually gave a monkey's about any of these pretty boys, and if you had the faintest notion of how they all happened to converge on that particular tropical island, then their tussle might be rip-roaring. But you don't, and it isn't.

Initially, the film has Bloom on a mission to find Depp. Then it has Keira Knightley on a mission to find both of them. Depp, meanwhile, is on a mission to find Bill Nighy's octopus-headed buccaneer, Davey Jones.

And, shortly after that, Bloom goes on a brand new mission to rescue his long-lost father. By this point, Davenport and Mackenzie Crook have washed ashore with their own missions, but it's anybody's guess what they are. And what's even more bewildering is that Dead Man's Chest has been formulated as the second part of a trilogy, so it doesn't feel the need to resolve any of its many storylines. For all of its estimable visual gags and verbal flourishes, its failure to chart a course towards one distinct destination makes you wish you were watching on DVD, so you could keep skipping forward to the next good bit.

As in the first Pirates of the Caribbean, the film's most impressive attribute is its crew of undead villains: Davey Jones's slimy, squirming shipmates have spent so long under the Atlantic that they're walking seafood buffets, with tentacles for hair, crab-claws for hands, and anemones sprouting from their faces. They set a new standard for computer-generated characters. Almost a special effect himself, Depp is terrific again as Captain Jack Sparrow, who traipses daintily through the confusion with the flounce of a tipsy drag queen and the guttural drawl of Tommy Cooper. But the film capsizes under the weight of all his co-stars. Of the central pair, Knightley is wasted by being dressed in cabin-boy clothes, which, as Depp informs her, "do not flatter you at all", while Bloom is as wet and wooden as the cannon deck. His name is the most swashbuckling thing about him.

It's a pity it's not Pirate of the Caribbean, singular. The prospect of another two and a half hours adrift with these pirates, plural, is enough to have you reaching for a bottle of rum.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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