‘Pirates 4′ Suffers From a Bad Case of Sequelitis

As it is with lot of follow-ups, the decision to make this movie was made based on economic imperative, rather than artistic impulses. And it shows

A sure sign that you’re is aging is when you find yourself, upon entering a restaurant, turning to your companions and mouthing, “It’s too loud and too crowded.”

I feel the same way about many would-be summer blockbusters. They’re too big and too loud and teem with ever expanding casts of characters I don’t want to know.

Latest case in point: “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” which is the fourth and newest chapter of the mammothly successful series. (The first three films, which came out in 2002, 2006 and 2007, have grossed $2.5 billion worldwide.)

It’s too big and too loud or, as a far more astute critic once put it, it’s “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

“Stranger Tides,” the first “Pirates” to be made in 3D, suffers from a severe case of sequellitis. That’s when the decision to make a movie is driven by economic imperative — there’s still money to be squeezed from this thing — rather than by artistic impulses. 

It’s a malady all too common in Hollywood today. Why come up with a fresh idea or original concept when you can simply crank out recycled titles and characters one more time? With “Pirates,” “Fast Five,” “The Hangover Part 2,” “X-Men First Class,” etc., this summer is again lousy with sequels.

There was no compelling creative need for this latest “Pirates,” no burning questions about storylines or characters left unresolved from the previous films.

So, in the absence of that, “Stranger Tides” puts the series’ most popular character, Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), front and center this time out. (Gone are the pesky young lovers, played by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, from the first three movies.)

“Stranger Tides’” plot has Jack setting off to find, with the help of an old map, the fabled Fountain of Youth in South America.

Also seeking to discover the magical waters are Blackbeard (Ian McShane), an evil pirate; the wooden-legged Capt. Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Jack’s longtime nemesis; and the King of Spain.

Also in the mix is Angelica (Penelope Cruz), a former flame of Jack’s who would just as soon bash his skull with any torch she might still be carrying.

The story serves mostly as a framework from which director Rob Marshall — he assumes the reins from Gore Verbinski, who directed the first three “Pirates” — can hang clanging sword fights and fiery explosions.

These occur with such repetitive frequency that one suspects producer Jerry Bruckheimer demanded one or the other (and, even better, both) appear in the script every eight pages.

The real problem, though, is that while Jack is an amusing bundle of eccentricities, there’s no real center or purpose to the character other than to chew scenery. Putting him at the heart of the movie just exposes how empty this enterprise really is.

Depp himself deserves hazard pay, not so much for surviving all the slashing blades and explosions, but for managing to appear awake and even vaguely engaged as this inert fourth chapter insistently grinds on in its mechanical way.

What can I say that’s nice? (Pax, Mom.) There’s a stunning special effects-laden sequence in which sexy but ferociously feral mermaids attack a pirate ship, which jolts the movie to life.

As these sea sirens, snapping their teeth and whipping their tails, send dozens of men to early deaths, you sit up straighter, thinking, wow, never seen that before.

But then it’s back to sword fights and explosions and Jack prancing about and stroking his beard braids. You slump back in your seat because it’s only going to be more of the same.

If there’s a cure for sequellitis, let’s hope someone discovers it soon.