by Tim Ross

“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is setting sail in theaters throughout the region, and No. 4 charts a course of adventure and lunacy similar to its predecessors. Unfortunately, as with the two most recent offerings, “Stranger Tides” doesn’t know when to drop anchor.

In a recent interview, Johnny Depp said he hasn’t tired of playing Captain Jack Sparrow, his eccentric character loosely based on rock icon Keith Richards. He also stated his desire for this latest Pirates film to tie up some loose ends from earlier in the franchise.

Neither of those statements hold true.

Depp stumbles through the film without the same panache and pure joy that was present in the first three, and “Stranger Tides” is riddled with subplots, subplot twists and at least one love story that did nothing to advance the action.

The film opens with Sparrow saving his old pal Gibbs (Kevin McNally) from being executed for piracy. Sparrow’s plan quickly unravels and he has to improvise an escape. These impromptu escapes and battles are what kept the Pirates franchise afloat for so long, but they’re not abundant here.

Instead, we’re treated to long periods of exposition as a quest for the Fountain of Youth – teased at the end of “At World’s End” – is taken up not only by Sparrow, but also his old nemesis Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), a Spanish adventurer (Óscar Jaenada), and Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter Angelica (Penélope Cruz). Four separate groups heading out after the same goal, each with their own agenda and each with their own subplot.

As the disparate groups race to the Fountain of Youth, there are opportunities for acrobatic sword fights, the cliff jumps that seem to take place in every film in the franchise and some flirtatious conversations aplenty between Depp and Cruz.

Cruz replaces Keira Knightly as Sparrow’s foil, but her character is thinly drawn and not really necessary to the plot.

While “Stanger Tides” lays out as many characters and storylines as its predecessors, this is Pirates of the Caribbean. It doesn’t rise above the other Pirates films, but it does have many fun moments and a good amount of action. Like the first three, it delights at moments and always looks beautiful, but it simply doesn’t have the same magic. It also labors under the same length problems that vexed “Dead Man’s Chest” and “World’s End.”

Although Depp seems less-than-enthusiastic to don the dreadlocks again, Rush is as delightful as ever, Cruz is adequate and relative newcomer Sam Claflin is sincere as a religious sailor, even though his presence in the film, and his love story with a mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) is a somewhat distracting subplot. McShane plays Blackbeard, described by Captain Sparrow as the most feared pirate in the realm, as a wishy-washy leader who backs down from ruthlessness at almost every opportunity.

Plenty of people will board the Pirates franchise ship to sail with Depp again, and they will have a fun ride. Given the last scene at the end of the credits, the Pirates franchise may weigh anchor yet again in the future. We can only hope it will finally recapture the fun and magic of the earlier films if it does.

Grade: 2/4 Stars