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‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’ review: Johnny Depp film barely works

Johnny Depp is back as Captain Jack Sparrow

Johnny Depp is back as Captain Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales." Credit: Disney Enterprises

PLOT A young sailor must break the curse upon his father by locating the Trident of Poseidon.

CAST Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem

RATED PG-13 (some gruesome content)


BOTTOM LINE A cartoonish Depp and a muddled plot send this fifth “Pirates” film to the bottom.

There’s really only one Pirate of the Caribbean, and that’s Jack Sparrow, the louche swashbuckler played by Johnny Depp. He’s one of Depp’s most famous creations, a clever combination of rock star, bumbler, lady-killer and sot, though most would agree the act has worn out its welcome. Still, what’s a studio to do when its blockbuster action-fantasy franchise is beholden to a megastar? Despite several recent duds (including “Alice Through the Looking Glass”) and a spate of bad publicity over his divorce from actress Amber Heard, Depp won Favorite Movie Icon at the People’s Choice Awards in January and remains a global superstar. Disney has no choice but to stick with him for as long as this “Pirates” ride will last.

The end may be nigh with the fifth film in the franchise, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” It’s a muddled mix of fantasy, adventure, adult innuendo and kid-level comedy, but barely works on any of those levels. The movie veers so wildly between tones and moods that it often seems as inebriated as Sparrow himself.

After 2011’s stand-alone sequel, “On Stranger Tides,” the series returns to its original storyline with a young sailor named Henry (Brenton Thwaites) who must break the curse upon his father (Orlando Bloom, once this series’ nominal star) by locating the mythical Trident of Poseidon. That’s a fairly manageable premise, but Jeff Nathanson’s screenplay quickly becomes an unruly thicket of storylines involving a budding young scientist, Carina (Kaya Scodelario); the flamboyant pirate Hector Barbossa (an enjoyably hammy Geoffrey Rush); and the undead Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem).

Salazar is the film’s most effective creation, a slavering sea zombie whose hair swirls around his skull. Bardem plays him with relish, and new directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg linger lovingly on his rotted face. But is horror what we want from a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie?

Sadly, that’s the best we’ll get, because most of the film is devoted to Depp’s silent-star mugging and prat-falling as Sparrow. The character who once seemed so ingenious is here reduced to a one-dimensional clown. The problem with “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is uncannily reflected in its storyline: Sparrow, it turns out, has lost the magic compass that once served him so well.

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