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Pirates

Pirates movie review
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There hasn't been a pirate movie in a long time, and after Roman Polanski's "Pirates," there may not be another one for a very long time. This movie represents some kind of low point for the genre that gave us Captain Blood. It also gives us a new pirate image to ponder.

After Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power, here is Walter Matthau as a pirate? Matthau is only partially visible behind his makeup and his costumes, but the part we can see appears to be totally at a loss to answer this question: What is Walter Matthau doing on the bounding main, wearing a peg leg? The movie stars Matthau as Capt. Red, a vile old swashbuckler who eats fishhooks for breakfast. Cast adrift in the open sea, he is picked up by a passing Spanish galleon and soon learns that the ship's cargo is a priceless golden throne. He sets about trying to steal the booty, but not before the movie bogs down in a hopeless quagmire of too much talk, too many characters and ineptly staged confrontations in which everyone stands around wondering what to do next.

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"Pirates" proves, if nothing else, that Matthau is not an action star and that Polanski is not an action director. We kind of knew that already. Matthau is, however, a very capable comedy actor, and there are times when Polanski seems to be trying for comedy, although search me if you can find a laugh in this movie. One of Polanski's very worst films was "The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me but Your Teeth Are in My Neck / Dance of the Vampires," and again this time, he is totally adrift trying for laughs with an expensive takeoff of a B-movie genre.

The real star of the movie is the Neptune, the full-size, functional galleon that was constructed as a set for most of the scenes. It's one of the finest sailing ships I've ever seen in a movie, but I couldn't see much of it, because Polanski steadfastly refuses to give us blood-stirring shots of the Neptune plowing through the waves. He begins with a real ship, then treats it like a studio set.

The real tragedy of "Pirates" may be that the movie was more of a deal than an inspiration. Polanski wrote the script 12 years ago, shortly after finishing "Chinatown," and it languished on his agent's desk until Tarak Ben Ammar, a wealthy Tunisian, finally signed on as producer. Polanski had gone eight years without a movie (his last film was "Tess"), and no doubt he was happy to have the work. But "Pirates" should never have been made, at least not by a director with no instinctive sympathy for the material, and not by an actor whose chief inspiration seems to be the desire to be a good sport.

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