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Wild Ride 

Disney studios must have been mightily disappointed with Treasure Planet last year. And it was surprising that such an entertaining and inventive adaptation of Treasure Island fell by the wayside. Maybe it just wasn't time for a good old-fashioned (albeit science fiction-drenched) pirate movie.

But there won't be any negative surprises with this one, an adaptation of Disneyland's animatronic mini-roller coaster ride, Pirates of the Caribbean. If this one isn't a hit, I'll be walking around saying, "Arrrrr!"

It opens on the open sea, with cute little Elizabeth spotting the young survivor of a shipwreck, then stealing the gold pirate medallion around his neck after he's saved. Years later, all grown up, the lovely Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), daughter of the governor of a Caribbean island, still has the gold hidden and still treasures it. The young boy, Will, has grown up, too. He's the local blacksmith (Orlando Bloom), with an unspoken crush on Elizabeth and no knowledge that she has the medallion that once hung around his neck.

Enter Jack Sparrow, excuse me, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) -- and it's not a very grand entrance, but good for a hearty laugh. He's a dashing but rather inept pirate with charisma to spare, arriving in town alone, looking for new ways to plunder those who sail the seas. As always, Depp dives into the role headfirst, with not a trace of actorly concerns about him. He has lots of metal on his teeth, beads in his hair and in his double-braided beard, a nice tan, and a broad accent. He goes for and gets some wonderful verbal and physical humor in an over-the-top performance that's at the same time completely under control. He's constantly moving and pointing his hands - they're as expressive as his wide-open eyes, and he's a master at comic timing.

Jack and Will and Elizabeth end up in a triangle - of sorts - after she has an unfortunate incident with a tight corset, a signal that the film is going to be one big bunch of rowdy fun.

The first sword fight is about 20 minutes in, depending more on gravity and dirty tricks than on skill. Before you can say "Avast," the legendary pirate ship called the Black Pearl has sailed into Port Royal. Its ratty crew - on a search for something they say is theirs, something that will lift the ghostly curse cast upon them - is tearing the town apart. There's talk of secrets involving Aztec gold and the light of the full moon. And there are actions that involve both Elizabeth and her medallion becoming the buccaneers' captives.

Soon after, Jack and Will, initially enemies, team up to rescue her, and the action takes off.

Depp may be chewing the scenery from his opening scene, but Geoffrey Rush as the Black Pearl's Captain Barbossa, gives him a joyous run for the money in the overacting department. And Rush's wink of the eye and turn of the phrase might be a tad stronger. He offers up terrific delivery of dialogue like "There be the chest, inside be the gold."

As the tale keeps spinning, more and more backstory is revealed about some of the main characters, and everything sails toward big, epic adventure territory.

The Pirates ride was a real giggle when I was a kid, and the one thing that still stands out is the skeletons popping up and screaming. Here's what the Pirates movie has going for it besides the epic adventure and grandly comic acting: eye-popping special effects, done up in old-fashioned gritty style; the regular blowing up of models; and a litany of pirate movie standbys, including gun-shooting, plank-walking, rope-swinging, sword-fighting battles at sea, abandoned islands, a parrot (and a monkey) on a shoulder, a treasure, heroic men, a strong woman.

But it also has more. It has the same thing that's going to make Terminator 3 a huge hit: a sense of self-deprecating humor. No one in this film takes it seriously, yet everyone involved gives it their all. Depp plays it swishy and wears far too much kohl under his eyes; Rush's character is deliriously full of himself; the parrot is the only one who gets to say, "Shiver me timbers."

While most of the fighting is practically bloodless, there's a rather violent climax. The pirates kill some of the sailors, but most of the actual stabbing is done off-screen, and there's still not much blood to speak of. The story gets slightly bogged down near the end, but it bounces back and remains an E-ticket attraction.

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