Johnny Depp's latest voyage on the sea of diminishing returns wasn't screened by WW press deadlines, but we walked the plank anyway.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

WW Critic's Score: 31

The original Pirates of the Caribbean worked on so many levels because it behaved like its inspiration: a ride. The out-of-the-blue blockbuster was a fun and goofy and full of quirk and charm. Most importantly, it gave us what we wanted: pirates doing pirate shit—sailing, fighting, drinking, pillaging, looting, sauntering, and taking on the requisite ghosts. It was a breezy treasure chest full of popcorn. But then producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski seemed to forget that the movies existed as an escape into the pirate life and started adding all kinds of nonsense to the sequels, from overwrought monsters to unneeded romance and, most of all, boatloads of nonsensical plot. All we really wanted was to see an eyeliner-wearing Johnny Depp jump off high buildings, steal shit, swashbuckle and crack jokes. Plot be damned.

So we arrive at On Stranger Tides promised just that. Stripped of obnoxious star-crossed lovers Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly and Verbinski's belabored plot, we're given a film that hoists Depp's Jack Sparrow directly into the captain's seat as he seeks the Fountain of Youth, pursued by a bevy of baddies ranging from the Spanish Armada to returning villain/teammate Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), hot chick/former flame Angelica (Depp's Blow co-star Penelope Cruz) and sadist of t he sea Blackbeard (the craggy Ian McShane). Cue a high-speed carriage chase through London, swordfights, flesh-munching mermaids, 'splosions, looting, double crosses, and Depp swaggering around the screen like an effeminate Hunter S. Thompson with a bad accent.

Yet it all rings hollow. New director Rob Marshall certainly knows how to stage a sword fight, taking his experience with Chicago and applying it to the intricate bladed choreography, but he can't make any of it pop, mainly because it's all so bloody familiar and tedious—something a pirate movie should never, ever be (I'm looking at you, Mr. Polanski). The simple story is bogged down by endless seas of wedged-in subplots, including an unnecessarily heavy and clichéd romance between a clergyman and a mermaid that seems better suited for a romance novel, particularly when he rips off his shirt to cover her chest as he carries her.

Depp himself shows some sparks of life, but every moment of fiery mischief is matched with two moments of the character seeming as bored as we are, as if he were shanghaied from the original and thrust into a far worse movie. McShane is given little to do but seethe and play the heavy. Rush lets the ham-juice splatter. And Cruz takes her role as the obligatory pirate babe and sleepwalks across the galley.

It doesn't really matter, though. Audiences will flock to this like drunken sailors, only to be swept out to sea for two hours of mind-numbing abuse. The film still plays out like a ride, just not a very fun one. It's easily the best since the original, but comparing On Stranger Tides to Dead Man's Chest and At World's End is like comparing seasickness to scurvy. Yes, it's stripped down to a more digestible core, but the fun was also gutted. The worst part is that the film is going to pillage and loot the box office, thus ensuring more exploitation of the original's charm when the entire franchise deserves to be buried at sea.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opens today at multiple locations; find showtimes here.