Johnny Depp shines amid swashbuckling fun

Oh, no. Another movie based on a Disney ride? Produced by Jerry 'Mr. Giant Stupid Blockbuster' Bruckheimer? With Johnny Depp as a pirate?

Oh, yes. And what a delightful surprise it is that 'Pirates of the Caribbean' turns out to be a flat-out delightful, hilarious joy ride featuring scoundrels, bounders and edge-of-your-seat thrills.

Utterly without irony, director Gore Verbinski ('Mouse Hunt,' 'The Ring') offers up swashbuckling Orlando Bloom (Legolas from 'The Lord of the Rings'), sinister pirate Geoffrey Rush ('Quills') and spunky lass Keira Knightley ('Bend It Like Beckham') in a story chock-full of crossed swords, curses, treasure and treachery on the high seas.

It's an honest-to-God pirate movie, boys and girls, and a really good one at that.

As the poor-but-dashing young blacksmith Will Turner, elfin hunk Bloom sets about saving his true love (Knightley) from the clutches of a crew of cursed buccaneers led by a scurvy dog named Barbossa (Rush). Despite his deep hatred of pirates, Turner joins forces with down-on-his-luck scalawag Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp), who shares a history with the kidnappers and has a score to settle of his own.

Even if 'Pirates' weren't a rousing success, it would be worth the price of admission just to watch Depp. His hair a cascade of rock-star cool as it tumbles from a mess of scarves and beads, kohl-smeared eyes twinkling, he glides through the film with the undulating grace of a drunken dancer. His accent and delivery are eerily like Dudley Moore's in 'Arthur' as he paints the air with an array of endearing, oddball hand gestures.

Straddling a line between dashing leading man and comic sidekick, Depp's virtuoso performance here is one of his very best, managing to be as completely convincing as it is completely over-the-top.

As a whole, 'Pirates' is the rare case of an adventure movie where they got everything right. The plot Ñ about mistaken identity and evil pirates trying to undo the effects of a cursed treasure Ñ is complicated but never falls apart. The art direction is superb, from the massive galleons and watery pirate caves to the computer-generated skeletal corsairs. The film's tone is dead-on, obviously made with the same sheer love for genre films that marks the best modern adventure movies, including 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and 'Star Wars.'

Even the music thrills, with Klaus Badelt's booming score adding a punch of swashbuckle-y goodness. It's the sort of soundtrack that makes you want to immediately go out and buy the CD, then drive around in your car wearing an eye patch and pretending to be a pirate.

Adding to the fun, 'Pirates' throws in references to the original ride, such as a trio of prisoners trying to con a dog out of the keys, a drunk pirate sleeping with pigs and even a quick appearance by the ride's famed Miss Scarlet. And on a moonlit beach, under the influence of demon rum, Knightley even teaches Depp the words to the famous song about 'a pirate's life for me.'

The first Disney release to get a cautionary PG-13 rating for it's nongory violence, 'Pirates' may not be appropriate for very small children. But for anyone else, it's a rollicking carnival of swordplay, stunts, chills and romance Ñ sly, witty, exciting and, perhaps, the best film of the summer.

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