CUTTHROAT ISLAND—don’t land on it. Bad movies can be fun (The Conqueror, The Silver Chalice) or they can just be brain-erasers of boredom and waste. There are enough lame examples in the periodically revived ‘pirate’ sub-genre of adventure films to do a dirty-dozen type group review, but frankly, Yellowbeard, Swashbuckler and ilk aren’t even worth more than a sentence or two, so we’ll save them for an eventual list of Cinema Crud to exorcise later.
This un-jolly rogering gets its own plank to walk because it managed to self-destruct so massively that it berthed among the all-time boxoffice flops. In 1995, eight years before Disney & Depp resuscitated the parrot & pegleg armada, newlyweds Geena Davis and Renny Harlin (their own bliss duly sank) offered this token of their self-esteem to an un-eager planet, who veered away in such numbers that the movie dead-lost $105,000,000. Even that doesn’t do it justice: as rule of thumb, with insurance, print costs and advertising figured in a film generally needs to recover one & a half times its cost to show profit. Harlin’s harpooned whale made back $10,000,000 of the $255,000,000 required.
The industry—run by pirates as ruthless as those that ravaged the Spanish Main— responded much like those olden days brigands would have: they keelhauled and marooned director Harlin, wife-star Davis and co-star flunky Matthew Modine. They’ve all kept working, but the broadsides from this fiasco holed their career courses below the waterline.
The script is awful (lady pirate and boy-pal race against vicious bad guys to find a treasure—yawn), and is both too mean-spirited for kids and too silly for adults. Pirate movies are a strange breed to start with, walking a fine line by making thieving thugs into genial heroes and playing merciless bloodletting like a rambunctious pillow-fight (one with swords and clubs). Blending mayhem into breezy fun takes tightrope skill.
The reason people fondly recall the early corsairs that sailed righteously—Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, The Black Swan, The Crimson Pirate, The Master of Ballantrae—is due not just to the charms of Flynn, Power, Lancaster and the flair of their directors, but the relative audience innocence of their times, and the simple fact that most fans watched those oldies when they were children. Depp & Co. brought the mix off in high style (at least in the first installment), but this ten-ton turkey feels endless at 124 minutes, with action that is furious but ridiculous and an exhausting finale that doesn’t quicken pulses as much as clogs arteries.
Full-scale explosions galore on full-scale ships, at bright locations in Malta and Thailand. Davis is physically game, give her that. Modine might as well not even be there. Frank Langella does what he can as the meanest meanie. Others going down with the ship are Maury Chaykin, Stan Shaw, Rex Linn and Harris Yulin. You won’t give a rusted scupper what happens to any of them. Beware all who enter here!