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Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Having already played the greatest lover of all time, Don Juan de Marco, Johnny Depp now sets his sights on the second in line: Pepe Le Pew. In recent interviews, Depp has admitted to channeling two outsized personalities in his efforts to portray the rogue pirate Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: the animated skunk and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. And, indeed, the paw prints of both are all over Depp's gleefully audacious performance. Raccoon-eyed, gold-toothed and swinging with shoulder-length dreads like a weeping willow tree, Depp delivers his lines with the languor of an amiably stoned rock star, more swishy than swashbuckling, and the result is an absolute gas.

Had Pirates of the Caribbean no other attributes, the sheer spectacle of Depp would be worth the cost of admission, but his cheeky performance is just one bit of a booty bursting with goodies. What could have been a two-hour-long advert for a Disney theme park ride (the, er, source material for the film) is in fact a rollicking adventure yarn, the most perfect realization of the 'summer movie' to float down the pike in a good long while.

Depp's Captain Jack is a disgraced pirate, the victim of a mutiny that left him stranded on an island and his beloved ship, the Black Pearl, the property of an especially unsavory bunch led by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). The renegade pirates happily pillage an Aztec treasure, but that booty comes with a curse that has doomed them to a life, as it were, of being undead. To reverse the curse, they must hunt down a gold medallion now hanging from the neck of the noble Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), a fair maiden with some surprisingly forward-thinking ideas about corsets and classless love ' the last one especially handy, given her crush on a humble blacksmith named Will Turner (Orlando Bloom).

The pirates nab Elizabeth, and Jack and Will team up to get their bonnie lasses ' Elizabeth and the Black Pearl ' back. Pirates of the Caribbean has a blast getting to the big showdown, berthing periodically for some very scary set-pieces with the undead pirates (in moonlight, they turn to impressively computer-generated skeletons), a cleverly choreographed swordsmen duel, and the kind of cracklingly corny dialogue you'd expect from a buddy flick. Buddies Will and Jack become, but everybody knows you can't trust a pirate, especially one who looks like he might burst into a guitar solo at the drop of a (pirate's) hat.

Director Gore Verbinski has proven in his brief career to be a jack of all trades, hopping from children's fare (Mouse Hunt) to screwball comedy (The Mexican) to horror (The Ring). Here, he brings the best of each of those genres to yet another ' the swashbuckler. Verbinski fully commits to the genre's inherent hokeyness, backed by Ãber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer. With a rÃsumà littered with such disposables as Con Air, Coyote Ugly, Pearl Harbor and Kangaroo Jack, Bruckheimer ' always eager to egg on the public's thirst for bigger, louder, stupider ' has done a scandalous amount of damage to contemporary cinema. But for once, his dubious talent for big-buck bombast is exploited for good rather than evil. Sympathy for the devil, indeed.

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