Three years and thousands of movies have passed since Pirates Of The Caribbean made the leap from theme-park attraction to mildly respectable franchise-in-the-making, largely on the strength of Johnny Depp's inspired turn as swishy scalawag Captain Jack Sparrow. During that time, what seemed like a pleasant throwback to Errol Flynn swashbucklers has apparently taken on the dense pop mythology of a Star Wars movie; viewers who don't remember the movie as if it came out yesterday should prepare to spend 151 minutes swimming in exposition. The first of two sequels shot in immediate succession, Dead Man's Chest bears the unenviable burden of racking the pins for both movies, which leaves it with precious few opportunities to have a little fun of its own. And who are all these original-movie holdovers who aren't played by Depp? Do any of them ring a bell?
Dead Man's Chest picks up where the first film left off, as engaged adventurers Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are arrested for aiding in Depp's escape from state-sanctioned execution—an offense that itself calls for execution. Bloom is offered exoneration if he can track Depp down and exchange an official pardon for the pirate's magical compass. As Bloom soon discovers, Depp has bigger problems, namely his years-old debt to the legendary Davy Jones, the supernatural captain of pirate ghouls. Jones also controls a deep-sea beastie that's been swallowing every passing ship. The only escape from a grim fate is for Depp, Bloom, and Knightley to search for the key to the chest that contains Jones' still-beating heart.
Got all that? Well, it gets more complicated, because about half a dozen minor characters from the original need reintroduction and have their own subplots. Dead Man's Chest comes to life whenever Depp appears, whether he's involved in deftly executed Rube Goldberg slapstick sequences, wrangling an undead bird, or sashaying in and out of trouble. He's the primary reason the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise holds any interest, yet the filmmakers seem to be under the impression that the dead-eyed likes of Bloom and Knightley are an equal draw. It's a little like when MGM started putting bland gentlemen and ingénues in Marx-brothers comedies, as if audiences needed their anarchy tempered by the commonplace. And as with those movies, it's tempting just to skip to the funny parts.