The good news first: Keith Richards totally rocks it playing pirate daddy to Johnny Depp's Capt. Jack Sparrow. The deep rumble of his voice and those hooded eyes that narrowly open like the creaky gates of hell make him what the rest of this three-peat is not: authentically scary. It's fun to see Richards swagger, even sitting down. Watch him stage a macabre reunion for Jack and his dear old mum. Don't worry, I won't reveal her secret.
So what's the bad news? Richards is onscreen for barely two minutes. The rest of At World's End left me at wit's end wading through nearly three hours of punishing exposition, endless blather (pirates take meetings — who knew?), an overload of digital effects and shameless setups for Pirates 4. I ask you people: Even if you like Depp (and who doesn't?), do you understand one bloody thing that's going on in this Pirates trilogy? The problem, I think, is that director Gore Verbinski and screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio focus on Will Turner, played by the aggressively bland Orlando Bloom, and his quest to find a personality. Kidding. Will wants to rescue his father (Stellan Skarsgard) from the tentacles of Davy Jones, a talking CGI fish with the luck to be voiced by the great Bill Nighy. Will still can't find the balls to make a move on Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley, working her skinny butt off trying to get a rise out of this putz), who spends her time trying to get Chow Yun-Fat, as the pirate lord of Singapore, to help save Jack. Confused? You should be, since Jack (why doesn't someone just tell him he's gay?) was swallowed whole by the Kraken in Pirates 2, but he steps lively here. He's trapped in Davy Jones' Locker, which resembles a hallucination out of Being John Malkovich, with multiple Jacks jabbering at each other.
I applaud the Oscar nomination Depp received for the first Pirates, but the third chapter proves that there can indeed be too much of a good thing. Pirates 3 raises everything from the dead, except inspiration. A huge set piece in which a pirate ship pulls a Poseidon and turns upside down must have cost millions and still looks tacky. And until a wow of a climactic sea battle, the story plods along like a PBS special on the founding pirate fathers. Happily, Geoffrey Rush (absent from Pirates 2) encores his "arrghs" as Barbossa and shows how nostril-flaring acting should be done. This dude can steal scenes from a monkey, and does. At least Rush and Depp capture the pirate ethos that a lost boy can get older but stay immature forever. I haven't mentioned the heart cut out of Davy's chest. No reason. I just don't care. Being buried in an avalanche of cliches and incoherence will do that to a guy. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer does deserve a shoutout: It takes a kind of genius to sucker audiences into repeatedly buying the same party tricks. Know what? There really is no legit way to review Pirates 3. It's not a movie at all, it's a business proposition.