Film - Philip Kerr confesses to enjoying Jerry Bruckheimer's latest swashbuckling romp
I know Jerry Bruckheimer. Several years ago, he gave me a lot of money. That's the good thing about Jerry. He always knows where to put his hands on a large supply of the stuff. Better still, he knows how to make it out of nothing.
Jerry Bruckheimer is the nonpareil of H L Mencken's remark that no one ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Formerly the business partner of the late Don ("You wouldn't like me when I'm angry") Simpson, Bruckheimer has produced a string of hit movies that audiences seem to like even when the critics don't. To watch a film by Bruckheimer is to tell the little grey secretary in your head, "I'm out for the next two hours"; nevertheless, the illicit pleasure of bunking off from all the normal thought processes involved in the consumption of a work of art should not be gainsaid. And anyone who tells you he doesn't like the bright, brash, rock'n'roller-coaster style of a Bruckheimer movie is probably the kind of person who doesn't like funfairs and fireworks, and who wants to ban people from smoking while riding horses and hunting foxes.
Andy Warhol, who once said that "making money is art, and working is art, and good business is the best art", would probably have regarded Jerry Bruckheimer as the Michelangelo of our age, because at the time of writing the two top-grossing movies at the American box office were both produced by Bruckheimer.
Bad Boys II took more than $46m on its first weekend, bucking the trend of an American summer movie season that has reacted negatively to sequels such as Legally Blonde 2 and Terminator 3. But the success of Bad Boys II was as nothing next to Pirates of the Caribbean: the curse of the black pearl, which in just two weeks has already made more than $130m.
Jerry's people rang me up from LA the other week and asked me if I'd like to go to the film premiere of Pirates, and thinking I might get a little face time with Jerry to ask why he never made my movie, I said yes. Arriving in Leicester Square, I was surprised to see thousands of girls screaming - not for me (although I was wearing a rather natty new Valentino suit), but for a scruffy boy who looked like a taller, younger version of Feargal Sharkey, once the lead singer of The Undertones. Now, as a former hack on the Evening Standard's Londoner's Diary, I like to think that when it comes to spotting celebrities and socialites I can still match the eagle eye of Marcello in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita; but the identity of Sharkey Jr eluded me. Even when one of Jerry's people informed me that this was Orlando Bloom, I was none the wiser.
"You know," said my friend, "he was Legoland, the guy with the bow in Lord of the Rings." At least that's what I thought he said. It wasn't until I was at the post-movie party and talking about Legoland that it was pointed out to me that Bloom actually plays a character called Legolas.
Pirates of the Caribbean stars Johnny Depp as the pirate Jack Sparrow, who takes up with a blacksmith, Will Turner (played by Bloom), to rescue a dumbsel in distress and a stolen ship from a crew of pirates who all turn into walking corpses whenever a shaft of moonlight touches their scurvy skins. I approached this film with little enthusiasm; the experience of watching such inferior pirate flicks as Roman Polanski's Pirates (1986) and Renny Harlin's CutThroat Island (1995) had persuaded me that a movie with a high concept that read like Evil Dead meets The Crimson Pirate was not going to satisfy an aficionado of the genre like me, weaned on classics such as Captain Blood (1935) and The Sea Hawk (1940). Compared to these, compared to the best of Bruckheimer (Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State, Black Hawk Down), my pessimism was justified; this is a pretty dreadful movie.
It is also a lot of fun. Pirates of the Caribbean may be as camp as a row of tents but if, like me, you have a sneaking affection for the Carry On films, then you will probably quite like it. For the rest of you (that's me, too, when I'm feeling more po-faced), there is a forensic fascination to be found in the amusing crimes against the English language perpetrated by Depp, who chooses to play Jack Sparrow as a parody of Keith Richards, the guitarist for the Rolling Stones; I half expected him to use the neck of a Fender Telecaster during the sword fights, instead of a cutlass. Depp's nearly unintelligible performance is on a par with that of Brad Pitt in Snatch, and might just be worth the price of admission on its own.
Pirates of the Caribbean (12a) is on general release