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‘Pirates’ round 2: good show

Disney’s smart: Why mess with the right formula?


EYE ON THE SPARROW: Depp is back.
  • EYE ON THE SPARROW: Depp is back.

Sequels are tricky. The problem, of course, is that if a movie is beloved or profitable enough to warrant a sequel, the writer and director of round 2 soon find themselves walking a minefield of sentimentality and audience expectation. Try to expand the character or the action in new and unexpected directions, and it all can go to pot very quickly.

Which brings us to one of the long-awaited blockbusters of summer 2006, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.” While not quite up to snuff with the original, “Chest” is a rollicking good time on the high seas, full of adventure, thrills and more of Johnny Depp’s virtuoso performance as Capt. Jack Sparrow. When it comes to sequels, this is one of the good ones.

Disney was smart enough, it seems, to not mess with the formula. The credits find the trio of swashbucklers from the original — Sparrow (Depp), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and her beau Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) — embroiled in yet another supernatural yarn. This time, it’s the legendary Davy Jones (Bill Nighy, who stole “Love Actually” as an aging rocker) who comes calling after Jack, seeking soul-payment for raising Jack’s ship from the depths after it sank 13 years before.

Seeking to get out of his bargain, the slippery Jack promises Jones 100 souls in exchange for his own. Instead, Jack goes after the one thing that can defeat his debtor: Jones’ own, still beating heart, buried somewhere in a magic chest.

Meanwhile, back in Port Royal, a new official with the British East India Co. arrests Turner and Elizabeth on charges of helping Jack escape. Turner is set free at a price: Elizabeth will be hanged unless he returns with the magical compass Jack Sparrow uses to guide him on his adventures, a compass that will lead the wearer to whatever he most desires.

Throw into the mix a giant, ship-devouring sea monster, a tribe of cannibals who elect Jack their king, and the return of Will Turner’s long-dead father (Stellan Skarsgard) from the briny deep, and you’ve got adventure that runs fathoms deep.

Coming in at 150 minutes long, “Chest” is a long, long movie. With nearly every scene devoted to action, however, it zips by quickly. Depp’s performance is as interesting as ever, with Captain Jack’s character even gaining a bit of resolution and depth. Bloom and Knightley do the good work of keeping up with him and staying out of his way. Worth the price of the ticket are Davy Jones and his barnacle-encrusted crew.

Though the ending was a bit unsatisfactory — more of a set-up for the third film in the trilogy — “Chest” is still a fine summer blockbuster. Full of action, intrigue, humor, dastardly villains and not-so-pure anti-heroes, it’s a pirate flick that won’t soon sail off into the sunset.

— David Koon

New on DVD

What begins as an examination of Islamic law becomes an agonizing attempt to probe one man’s suffering in “Day Break” (aka “Dam E Sobh”), a 2006 Iranian film in Farsi with English subtitles and the debut feature of writer-director Hamid Rahmanian. The film, however, seems to be at odds with the director’s dual ambitions.

Where once modern Iran has reverted to Islamic law, it’s up to the victim’s family, or rather, the male head of the family, to either spare a murderer’s life or to enforce his execution. The opening scenes depict everything you need to know about the awful possibilities of giving such power to the victim’s family.

Mansour (Hossein Yari) is awakened by guards in Tehran’s aging, decrepit Ghasr prison and taken for the medical examination required before an execution. Along with another condemned prisoner, Mansour is trucked to the gallows, only to find that the family of Mansour’s victim is unable to attend. The scenes depicting the other condemned man’s fate feed on taut emotions.

Upon his return to the prison, Mansour finds himself elevated to legendary status, having escaped three appointments with death. But Mansour’s guilt and sorrow trap his thoughts in a looping pattern that replays the events leading up to his crime. These flashbacks become redundant as Mansour approaches his fourth meeting with the executioner. The film wonders whether he will dare to hope for forgiveness, but by then the question seems moot.

The DVD includes a nine-minute short film, “Dumb Angel.”

— Lisa Miller

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