Review: Plodding 'Pirates! Band of Misfits' may leave viewers saying 'Argh!'

The Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant, center) is surrounded by his merry band of misfits in "The Pirates! Band of Misfits."

Photo by Aardman Animations for Sony Pict, © 2012 Sony Pictures Animation, Inc. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR

The Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant, center) is surrounded by his merry band of misfits in "The Pirates! Band of Misfits."

In The Pirates! Band of Misfits, the luxuriantly bearded Pirate Captain is joined by a rag-tag crew. With seemingly blind to the impossible odds stacked ...

Rating: PG for mild action, rude humor and some language

Length: 88 minutes

Released: April 27, 2012 Nationwide

Cast: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Jeremy Piven, Brian Blessed

Director: Peter Lord

Writer: Gideon Defoe

More info and showtimes »

Any fan of Aardman Animations and the studio's successes on television ("Wallace and Gromit," "Creature Comforts") and the big screen ("Chicken Run," "Flushed Away") is likely to have high hopes for "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" — and just as likely to have those hopes dashed.

"The Pirates!" is 30 minutes of clever ideas adrift in an 87-minute animated feature. It feels as though directors Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt rushed into production on the first draft of Gideon Defoe's screenplay rather than waiting until the script was fleshed out with humor and momentum.

Based on Defoe's book "The Pirates! in an Adventure With Scientists," the movie probably will keep young viewers in their seats, but adults will grow restless.

The pirate craze of pop culture gets a new twist with the big-screen debut of Pirate Captain (voice of Hugh Grant), the hapless leader of a crew of true misfits. The Captain sets the tone early on by settling a debate about the best aspect of being a pirate. Turns out, it's not looting OR cutlasses — it's "Ham Nite."

Well, what would you expect from a pirate whose most valuable possession is his luxuriant beard, not a hold full of treasure? And whose beloved parrot Polly is, ahem, pleasingly plump? The crew loves Pirate Captain all the better for his quirkiness, and they seem to be having a good time despite their impecunious state.

The Captain believes that 1837 is finally going to bring him the Pirate of the Year Award. Peers such as Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven), Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) and Peg Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry) laugh at the thought, so the Captain sets sail to prove them wrong.

Alas, the Captain has no talent for looting. He can't find a ship transporting treasure to save his life. When he boards a ship carrying nothing but budding scientist Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and his specimens, he's so frustrated that he decides to make Darwin walk the plank.

In the nick of time (almost), Darwin notes that the Captain himself possesses treasure — Polly is not a parrot but a dodo, thought to be long extinct. Darwin promises the Captain he can win riches by letting Darwin exhibit Polly at a science contest back in London.

Despite the warnings of his No. 2, the Pirate with a Scarf (Martin Freeman), the Captain heads for London, where Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) fumes daily over her hatred for pirates.

"The Pirates!" is beautifully animated with the detail one expects from Aardman, and a quick eye will catch numerous visual gags worth a chuckle. A few action set pieces — including chases via a bathtub and a hot-air balloon — enliven the proceedings. But for the most part, the film is set on simmer, not boil.

The best thing about the movie is its willingness to mix 1837 with 2012 — and 1863, 1884, 1907, 1979, etc. The anachronistic touches add whimsy to the otherwise plodding pace. Casting Darwin and Queen Victoria as the villains is another inspired touch.

Unfortunately, inspiration doesn't cover most of "The Pirates! Band of Misfits." It's yo-ho-hum and a bottle of yawn.

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