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`PIRATES' SEQUEL LONG BUT OCCASIONALLY STRONG.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Critic

Just like its predecessor, ``Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest'' is an exercise in forgiveness, asking its audience to sit through the bloat to get to the treasure.

Blowhard director Gore Verbinski gives us two of everything -- villains, self-sacrificing fathers, love triangles -- when one would have sufficed. He never stages an action sequence that he doesn't want to repeat for lessened effect. The result is a 2 1/2-hour movie that starts slowly and only gets up to full sailing speed by its last hour.

Johnny Depp redeemed the first ``Pirates'' movie, and if they gave Oscars the way baseball crowns its league MVPs -- for contributions to the success of the team -- Depp would have won best actor, hands-down. Take him away from that 2003 film, and you're left with an empty, unwatchable spectacle.

Depp, of course, returns in ``Dead Man's Chest,'' again playing everyone's favorite, mascara-wearing prancing pirate, this time leaning more on the character's Pepe Le Pew inspiration, though Keith Richards still comes through, too. While the thrill of discovering the character and Depp's performance is gone, it's still a joy watching him play this narcissistic, word-slurring anti-hero. Just seeing Depp run -- and Capt. Jack runs a lot in this movie -- is to behold a Chuck Jones cartoon come to life, and it makes me smile every time.

Given how Depp so thoroughly stole the movie from Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley the first time around, you wish producer Jerry Bruckheimer would have been smart enough to jettison the bland characters and let Sparrow fly alone this time around. But that would violate the laws of sequels, not to mention run the risk of alienating the teen girls who blush at the sight of Bloom.

The problem is, credited screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio struggle in putting the three main characters back together, delivering an opening hour that is incoherent and largely uninvolving. Separated lovers Will (Bloom) and Elizabeth (Knightley) are present only because one of the villains (the boring, non-CG one) wants something from Jack.

Meanwhile, the other villain, the astounding, computer-generated, squid-faced Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) wants something from Jack as well -- his soul. This is where the movie gets good, if not great: when Jones' submerged Flying Dutchman ship pops out of the ocean, revealing its barnacle-covered, bizarro crew of the aquatic undead, adversaries more than worthy of Capt. Jack. One other item of note: Jones commands a giant squid that makes the beastie in ``20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'' look like a wee jellyfish.

Davy Jones and his crew are fantastic, flawless creations -- you can't take your eyes off them. John Knoll's Industrial Light & Magic visual effects team have gone above and beyond the call here, creating a band of characters that impeccably serve the story without needlessly calling attention to themselves.

There's a Hammerhead Shark Man, a Hermit Crab Head ... really it's a rogues gallery straight out of Dick Tracy. Although they're almost entirely computer creations, they feel as real as the flesh-and-blood humans.

More real, in fact. If Depp was the Oscar nomination waiting to happen for ``Black Pearl,'' it's Nighy's turn for ``Dead Man's Chest.'' Nighy has spent his entire career elevating bad movies (``Underworld'') or turning good films into near-great ones (``Shaun of the Dead''). Here, even though everything about the squid-faced Jones, even the eyes, are artificial, Nighy's performance comes through loud and clear, full of magnificent menace, a villain for the ages.

His presence makes the prospect of next year's third ``Pirates'' movie palatable, even if, given the progression of the series, Verbinski pushes the running time to 3 hours. These are movies that cry out for the ``scene selection'' feature on the DVD.

But when the scenes work and cook, they're the essence of summer moviemaking. They shiver your timbers and make you feel like a kid.

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672

glenn.whipp(at)dailynews.com

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST - Three stars

(PG-13: intense sequences of adventure violence, including frightening images)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Bill Nighy, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley.

Director: Gore Verbinski.

Running time: 2 hr. 30 min.

Playing: In wide release.

In a nutshell: Overlong, redundant, confusing -- and at times entertaining as a summer day in the shade with a bottle of rum. Saved again by Johnny Depp and the amazing squid-faced Davy Jones, created on a computer and brought to life by the great Bill Nighy.

CAPTION(S):

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Photo:

Johnny Depp, left, and Orlando Bloom are back on the high seas for ``Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 6, 2006
Words:767
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