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Too Yar to Care

Dead men may tell no tales, but the bloated 'Pirates of the Caribbean' is one of a tragic breed of popcorn movies that don't know when to stop

By Steve Palopoli

Remember when it was considered sick and wrong to make a mainstream movie over two hours long?

Just 10 years ago, even films that had some genuine ambition, like Robert Altman's Short Cuts or Schindler's List, were not above taking heat for their epic running times. Special dispensation was still given for the artiest films, sure. But when it came to junk-food cinema, there seemed to be a general acknowledgment that we as moviegoers had to things to do: bars to hop, dogs to wash, rare greenhouse flowers to cultivate--hell, other movies to see.

Even the most pretentious comic book movie of all time up to that point, Tim Burton's Batman, was just six minutes over the two-hour mark. That was seriously pushing it at the time, but compared to today's blockbusters, it was practically a short.

Flash forward 14 years to an equally high-minded director, Ang Lee, and another attempt at comic book revisionism. Hulk might even have worked if it hadn't been nearly 2 1/2 hours long. Two-and-a-half hours! Though I enjoy the occasional smashing, I don't need 2 1/2 of Hulk under any circumstances. And guess what, I didn't need 2 1/2 hours of James Bond, either, despite what the makers of Die Another Day might think.

And I'll tell you something else: I sure as hell don't need 2 1/2 hours of a movie based on a freakin' Disneyland ride. Has Hollywood gone totally nuts? Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl is a lot of things, but above all, it's 143 minutes long. That's at least 43 minutes longer than any movie involving theme-park cross-promotion, Johnny Depp in mascara or anyone saying "Shiver me timbers!" ever needs to be. And like the other ridiculously bloated popcorn movies of recent times, Pirates is a film that could have been clipped by at least a third and been so much better for it.

Instead, a surprisingly fun summer movie is slowly transformed into an absolutely excruciating experience, right before your eyes. The beginning is downright jolly, humming right along through a cheesy story that would be insulting if it wasn't so entertaining to see how far Disney is willing to stretch the plotline to get in nearly all the scenes from the ride. These familiar tableaux at least work hard for their chuckles--in a re-creation of the scene where the jailed pirates try to entice a dog into giving them the keys, Depp off-handedly informs them they might as well give up since "that dog's never going to move." Get it? Oh, c'mon, that's pretty clever for a theme-park-metareference.

Anyway, there's some stuff about a cursed ship and the evil leader of the pirate undead (Geoffrey Rush), who steals away the leading wench (Keira Knightley), and then it's downhill into dullsville for, like, an hour. Seriously.

By the time it gets to the cool stuff at the end, you're so bored it's nearly impossible to care. I mean, the climactic battle does feature skeleton pirates walking along the ocean floor, and you certainly won't catch me arguing against that. Depp is sometimes almost enough to get you there--he's especially fascinating here because, for some reason known only to Johnny Depp, he plays Captain Jack Sparrow more like a campy queen than the crazy drunk everyone says he is. But even his first-mate-of-comedy performance can't hide the fact that director Gore Verbinski should have delivered the shufflin' undead--and the end of the film--long before.

And it's not a question of attention span, either. I can see Martin Scorsese screaming at the suits that The Last Temptation of Christ has got to be 164 minutes--and not a minute less, you corporate bastards! I can comprehend Ridley Scott ordering up 144 for Black Hawk Down (war movies are always too long anyway). And I can definitely see the producers of Lord of the Rings bending over backwards to give Peter Jackson three hours per installment--and anything else he wants. But I cannot for the life of me imagine Verbinski--the director of Mouse Hunt and The Mexican, for fuck's sake--seriously arguing that he can't lose one, two, 1,000 more frames of Pirates of the Caribbean. Movies that are this senselessly self-indulgent are bad for everyone: theater-owners make less money because they can do fewer showings per day, meaning it's harder for the studio to make back their money, as well. And theatergoers lose out the most, to the point where some people are just entirely avoiding movies they might enjoy if the editor weren't asleep at the wheel.

Personally, I blame Kevin Costner, which is always fun. He opened the '90s with Dances With Wolves, which is one of the first movies I remember going to that felt like it should have ended half a dozen times before it did. I don't think we need to play the Postman card to agree it's all been downhill from there.

And now what do we have to look forward to? That's right: 150 minutes of Bad Boys 2. Don't forget to pack a bag.

Pirates of the Caribbean (PG; 143 min.), directed by Gore Verbinski, and written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, and starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Geoffrey Rush, plays countywide.

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From the July 23-30, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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