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By Michael Calleri

When playing poker, you've got to know when to fold a weak hand. The same decision should hold true for Hollywood producers. At some point in the life of a popular film series, everyone associated with it must know that making another picture might be foolhardy.

Has anyone really been clamoring for a fourth "Pirates Of The Caribbean" movie? Granted, the first three were box office mega-hits, but the quality showcased in the first entry lessened as the series progressed.

The new one is subtitled "On Stranger Tides," and although it's shorter than any of the previous works, clocking in at two hours and 17 minutes, it feels longer. Long stretches of pointless silliness will do that.

There's an uncomfortable sense that everyone's going through the motions. The story isn't as convoluted as the others, but it feels clunky and manufactured -- an industrial, assembly-line product. If you're steeped in the era of piracy on the high seas, it's certain you'll find incongruities and inaccuracies. But does anyone go to these films looking for facts?

Rebellious pirate Captain Jack Sparrow -- an undeniably memorable character as played by Johnny Depp -- has lost command of his beloved ship, the Black Pearl. He's eager to get it back.

Meanwhile, King George is eager to beat the Spanish to the fabled Fountain of Youth. At the behest of the king, Sparrow takes on the task of finding the fountain, as are a gaggle of others, including a pair of nefarious pirates.

Add some zombies and mermaids to the mix, and you've got a swashbuckling stew that's not particularly filling, because the screenplay doesn't give the characters much shading.

Superficiality is the rule rather than the exception.

There's a dashing female buccaneer played by Penelope Cruz, but she seems to be around just to have a sword-fighting female on screen. Ian McShane is Blackbeard and Geoffrey Rush returns as Sparrow's nemesis Barbossa.

Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley are not in the picture, replaced by a lithe-beauty-and-young-hunk combo of Syrena the mermaid and Philip the missionary. They are acted by pretty new faces Astrid Berges-Frisbey and Sam Claflin, respectively.

The movie was shot in 3-D, with the correct cameras, but it's not really a factor. The effect is most prominent during all the swordplay, but there's no pressing reason to pay the extra fee.

Plans are afoot to have this fourth edition be the first of a planned two more pictures, and Depp is willing to keep playing his famous part. Apparently, the fact that the series has run out of steam doesn't bother anyone in Hollywood.

"Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" is directed by Rob Marshall, best known for making the musical "Chicago." He has replaced Gore Verbinski, who directed the first three editions.

Marshall is good at staging chases and fight scenes -- he's an assured visual stylist -- but he doesn't seem to have put much pressure on the cast to tone done their hammy excesses. There's a lot of emoting, but very little acting.

Depp seems to have been given no direction. If you can imagine it, he's even more manic than he's ever been as Sparrow. At this point in the series, he's so over the top, he should have erected a new ceiling.

"The Double Hour" is a nifty romantic thriller from Italy that quickly puts its heroine in a hospital bed with a head wound and forces her to think about what went on before she got shot.

Sonia is a Slovenian working as a chambermaid at a hotel in Turin. She goes to a speed-dating event, where she meets Guido, a former cop and current security expert who works for a wealthy art collector.

At Guido's request, she goes to see the estate, only to have the sweet promise ofĘtheir date shattered when art thieves stage a daring robbery. Guido is shot and killed, and Sonia is grazed in the head by the bullet that kills him.

Here's where I need to stop detailing the story and tell you that perhaps Guido isn't dead, and perhaps Sonia imagined the robbery and possibly even the speed-dating party.

As directed by Giuseppe Capotondi, the movie is a very clever drama in which clues are cautiously placed in order for you to understand Sonia and the mystery that the director and his three screenwriters -- Alessandro Fabbri, Ludovica Rampoldi and Stefano Sardo -- have concocted.

It's possible everything is being played out in Sonia's imagination. And then again, maybe not. Folks who see the film will enjoy how Capotondi delivers the goods.

"The Princess Of Montpensier" is a terrific-looking romantic drama directed by one of France's legendary filmmakers, Bertrand Tavernier, who's most famous in the United States for three 1980s successes: "Coup de Torchon," "A Sunday In The Country," and "'Round Midnight," in which the real-life jazz great Dexter Gordon is exceptional as a fictionalĘtenor sax player who leaves the United States for Paris to escape the racism of the 1950s.

Tavernier's newest is about the epic religious war that divided France in the 16th century, and is based on a 1662 novella by Madame de Lafayette.

Marie de Mezieres is in love with her handsome cousin, Henri de Guise, a love denied when her father forces Marie into an arranged marriage with well-connected but not alluring Philippe de Montpensier, whom she has never met and will not like.

Philippe is called away to fight, but Marie can't catch a break. She's left in the care of Count Chabannes, a wizened old nobleman who loathes warfare and plots to change the course of French history. Marie, the titular princess of Montpensier, is thenĘcompelled to be part of the ribald sexual and political intrigues of the court.

Tavernier has made a compelling film that is wonderfully acted and beautifully photographed. It offers a few nice surprises that add to its appeal.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com May 24, 2011