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The newest spectacle to hit viewers' tired and vaguely entertained retinas is probably the most impressive outing we'll get all summer, but don't let that fool you. Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest is a mish mash of a movie, one that borrows any and all devices to convince its audience that something neat is taking place, all the while disguising the fact that its plot has all the substance of a Yo Ho Ho and barely a quarter of a bottle of rum.

The movie does stand out in its own way, of course. Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow is a class above most of his pirate-y crew, though he is matched easily by Bill Nighy as Davey Jones, the newest baddie to hit the high seas. Orlando Bloom has more facial hair this time around, which covers up some of the acne and one dimensionality of his character Will Turner, and Kiera Knightly barely has time to smile in her reprised role of Elizabeth Swann. There are more action set pieces than a pirate has gold teeth, and the effects are utterly seamless, and a good thing too--the Kraken is an impressive beastie with a couple of good moments in the film, and much applause should be given the CG artists who did some tricky integration with the in camera action.

The film opens with Elizabeth and Will arrested for helping Jack escape, sentenced to death by the grasping and ambitious Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), who offers Will a deal: Find and retrieve Captain Jack Sparrow's magical compass in exchange for a full pardon. Meanwhile, Jack's reunion with his crew is disturbed by the pseudo undead ghost of Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), who warns Jack that he owes Davey Jones his soul in one of those soul-for-ship deals gone bad. Jack, looking to cheat Davey out of his threadbare soul, looks to evade the seas and the mighty Kraken, whom Davey Jones can summon at will, whilst attempting to retrieve a key that could turn his fortunes around and leave him master of his fate.

The plot grows more dense, and without giving too much away, the crew and the luckless Swann and Turner face cannibals, the sea-infested crew of the Flying Dutchman, and of course, Davey Jones himself, who features a slimy mollusky octopus for a face, and who seems perfectly willing to take Jack's counteroffer of one hundred souls in exchange for his own back. Naturally, this involves Jack being dastardly and conniving whilst simultaneously charming, but surprisingly, it's difficult to like him in this. He's more worldly and less friendly, more self-centered and even possibly cruel as he attempts to wrangle poor drunken souls from a tavern for his ill-gotten deal with Davey Jones.

On the whole, however, the film functions as even more of a ride than the first film. It all seems set up and carefully plotted, which ruins the natural fun of it all. Writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio try to mix international maritime skullduggery with a quest for a hidden key that opens a chest that contains a smaller chest which holds the living heart of Davey Jones, but it's too gimmicky to work as a reasonable plot, and the film bogs down under the weight of its own pointless wanderings. Viewers wondering where the action is will be disappointed by the amount of droll dialogue about who loves whom, why Jack Sparrow may or may not be a good man at heart, and whether Will Turner has the same penchant for pirating as his father Bootstrap Bill, and all too often the action seems disconnected from the rest of the plot. An early island scene featuring cannibals seems pointlessly long and mostly uninteresting, though there are enough laughs to keep viewers afloat until the pirates return to the open sea.

Obviously, a film like Pirates is not meant to rock someone's worldview or change lives. If anything, it's supposed to be over the top. I can give it some leeway, and there are parts that are genuinely enjoyable. However, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of sustainability in the trotting out of scenarios that all have the dubious task of getting Captain Jack closer to answering a fundamental question: has the world had enough of pirates and their plundering ways?

Fortunately for the studio, the money brought in over the weekend smashed records and proved that, in theory, at least, Jack's got a few more years of life a relatively prosperous career of dapper high seas criminality. Here's hoping the third (and final?) movie in the trilogy will find a good story in the treacherous reefs. These days, pirating ain't what it used to be.


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 2.35:1

Subtitles: French, Spanish, English

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo; Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; commentary; bloopers.

* Commentary - Feature-length audio commentary from screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio.
* Bloopers -
o "Bloopers of the Caribbean" - (3:50) - Collection of flubs and bloopers.
* Disney Sneak Peaks (3:50) - promotional trailers for Peter Pan Platinum Edition, The Chronicles of Narnia 4-disc Extended Edition, Meet the Robinsons, Ratatouille, Invincible, The Guardian, "Disney Movie Rewards," Disney Parks, and Blu-Ray technology.
* Featurettes
o Charting the Return (25:40) - includes the teaser and theatrical trailer for the film as well as two video game previews and a sales piece on the Christopher Reeve Superman boxed set.
o According to Plan: The Harrowing and True Story of Dead Man's Chest (63:00)
o Captain Jack: From Head to Toe
+ Jack's Hat (1:36), Jack's Pirate Coat (1:47), Jack's Shirt (1:04), Jack's Boots (0:52), Jack's Sword (1:02), Jack's Scarf & Wig (0:57), Jack's Eye Makeup (1:12), Jack's Dingles (1:08), Jack's Teeth (0:54), Jack's Beard (1:53), Jack's Trophy Lace (0:33), Jack's Rings (1:50), Jack's Rum Bottles (1:19), Jack's Pistols (1:54), Jack's Belts (0:44), Jack's Compass (1:44), Jack's Sash (1:18), Jack's Keys (0:32), Jack's Cannibal Makeup (1:16), Jack's Cannibal Toe Necklace (0:54), Jack's Cannibal Scepter (0:32), and Johnny Depp on Jack Sparrow (2:08).
o Mastering the Blade
+ Orlando Bloom (5:36)
+ Keira Knightley (5:06)
+ Jack Davenport (5:16).
o Meet Davy Jones: Anatomy of a Legend (13:00)
o Creating the Kraken (10:00)
o Dead Men Tell New Tales: Re-Imagineering the Attraction (13:00)
o Fly on the Set: The Bone Cage (3:47)
o Jerry Bruckheimer: A Producer's Photo Diary (4:41)
o Pirates on Main Street (3:58)

Number of discs: - 2- Packaging: The 2-disc set comes in a 3-D slipcase, and inside you'll find a foldout booklet with a navigation map and some info on the extras.