What exactly made the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie such a hit?

Fabulous characters, swashbuckling swordplay, thrills, romance and just enough horror to be fun - all that's back in the sequel, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."

And more.

Much more. Way too much more. This new installment heaps dizzying action sequences upon legions of gruesome new characters and blankets it all with a political/economic umbrella that will be lost on younger viewers.

Fortunately, all the major players return to advance their stories. Blacksmith-turned-buccaneer Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and plucky aristocrat Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) are about to be married in Port Royal, Jamaica, when British soldiers brusquely arrest them for aiding the escape of Capt. Jack Sparrow, played to Oscar nominee status by Johnny Depp.

A newly-arrived officer of the East India Trading Company (Tom Hollander) controls their fate: He will trade them signed letters of pardon in exchange for Will delivering Sparrow into his hands.

As the plot progresses, viewers gradually learn his ulterior motive. Jack Sparrow possesses a drawing of a key. That key, when found, will unlock a hidden chest. Inside the chest is purported to be the still-beating heart of Davy Jones, the legendary mariner who kills or enslaves sailors who cross his path. Jones also controls the horrible sea monster called the Kraken. Ergo, whoever controls Davy Jones controls the seas.

The superstitious Capt. Sparrow, it turns out, owes a debt to Davy Jones, and aims to find the heart to use as a bargaining tool for his freedom.

So we've got Will out searching for Sparrow, a fugitive Elizabeth following in disguise, searching for Will; and Sparrow searching for the key and trying to avoid Davy Jones in the meantime. Throw a few more characters into the mix, like voodoo priestess Naomie Harris and spurned and humiliated British officer Jack Davenport, and it's less a story and more a big fast-moving jumble of stunts.

The ick factor in "Dead Man's Chest" is several times nastier than in its predecessor. If ravens plucking out a corpse's eye in the first five minutes makes you wince, wait until Johnny Depp eats a toenail.

Once the leads meet up with Davy Jones himself (played by Bill Nighy), the digital artists don't let a frame go by without something oozing, dripping or bursting. Jones and his crew on the Flying Dutchman spend much of their undead lives under the ocean's surface, so they're all in various stages of aquatic transformation and decay.

"Dead Man's Chest" joins the ranks of "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Back to the Future II" as the obligatory second act in a trilogy, one that doesn't come to a satisfactory ending but only sets the stage for the final chapter.

It's by no means a wasted effort - heck, they probably could have set any footage to that rousing musical score and audiences would have loved it - but this boat flounders, trying to sail in too many directions at once.

OK, folks. Thanks to a couple of less-than-pleasant cinema experiences recently, it's time for a reminder of the common courtesies. These guidelines work for any public event:

1. Sssssshhh! This isn't your living room. When the lights go down, so should your voice.

2. Aaagh! My eyes! Cell phone screens are extremely bright in a darkened theater. Keep them closed or shade them tightly.

3. Get a babysitter. Don't bring your little ones to grown-up movies. If they're not having a good time, they'll make sure you aren't, either.

4. Know your lines. If a line should form out the lobby door, keep it close to the building. Don't make people stand in traffic in the parking lot.

Remember, showing a little consideration for others is easy and good for you - and your date will be impressed.


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