by Marty Demarest

A review of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is destined to sound like an open love letter to Johnny Depp. And why not? Depp has been with us since A Nightmare on Elm Street and 21 Jump Street, and every step of the way he's managed to hold our attention. He's a remarkable actor whose very presence turns this move-based-on-a-theme-park into a genuine worth-the-full-price experience.

In Pirates, Depp plays a strange, legendary pirate named Jack Sparrow, who is either slightly loopy or who acts that way so that people will underestimate him. Either way, he's one of those rascally movie vagabonds who's so interesting that everyone else onscreen gives him every chance possible to survive. They seem to be as curious about what he'll do next as the audience is.

The only possible villain for this type of hero is a truly evil, amoral one. That's where Geoffrey Rush comes into the picture, as the captain of a cursed pirate ship. He's not so much evil as he is undead and sick of it in the way that only a Shakespearean actor can convey. His crew gets some good special effects when we see them turning to corpses in the moonlight.

There are also quite a few scenes of nonsensical action that should stop the movie dead in the water. But every time Depp graces the screen, it's impossible not to be excited. His Jack Sparrow is part glam rock star, part cartoon character and part child. He fiddles with the beads in his hair, reveals acres of mascara as he blinks disconcertingly, and generally swishbuckles his way through the entire film. It's an incredibly brave performance, as Depp doesn't hesitate to let Sparrow grow weirder and weirder. But it's also generous, as he gives plenty of support to his fellow actors, who include an awkward-yet-earnest Orlando Bloom (Legolas in The Lord of the Rings trilogy).

Disney, as is their habit these days, makes the DVD edition worth the $30 they charge. Not only do you get the film, but you get three commentaries, and a treasure trove of extra features, including a history of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. But this set would be worth the price even if it only contained just the scenes in which Depp appears. Not since the heyday of Peter Sellers and Woody Allen has an actor given a comedic performance this strong.

Publication date: 12/18/03

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