Directed by Rob Marshall from a script by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, On Stranger Tides is the shortest film of the series and the least expensive since the first. But as much as I would like to say that these reductions prove advantages, they do not. The second and third entrants in the franchise may have been bad, but they were ambitiously bad, displaying a commitment to their overwrought mythologies and interminable reversals--the ship-swappings, the hostage-takings--that few viewers could match. The new movie, by contrast, has the feel of a TV drama renewed for one season too many, a last, furtive run at the till before it closes for business.In accordance with the prevailing dictate, the movie is presented in 3-D, and the muddy visuals (exacerbated by the fact that most of the scenes are set at night) present an object lesson in the drawbacks of the format. The plot, which involves a race to acquire the ingredients needed to perform a life-giving ritual at the Fountain, manages to be at once straightforward and plodding. Though there are smatterings of wit and whimsy (for instance, Jack's novel approach to untying himself from a palm tree), they show up with diminished frequency. And the one moment when the film offers a hint of genuine beauty and narrative tension--as the seductive song of a mermaid pulls sailors toward the waves--is exactly that: a moment, and one quickly undone by a rowdy bout of second-rate CGI action.
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