The story is naturally a typically salty one involving Walter Matthau's 'Captain Red' and his young French sidekick trying to pinch a golden throne from some fancy pant Spaniards. At the same time there is of course a love interest for the young dashing French sailor, mutinies, plenty of galleon boarding from both sides and lots of skullduggery on land and at sea.
I think this film is very similar to 'The Fearless Vampire Killers' in the fact that its actually kinda dull but looks beautiful. All the pirates, especially Matthau, look as they should do, covered in dirty rag-like attire, greasy facial hair, deep tans, golden teeth...every bit the stereotypical swashbuckling sea dog. I was quite intrigued with the wooden leg Matthau's Captain has, it really looks like he has a real wooden peg leg! and this is before CGI folks, impressed. On the flip side the Spanish look perfectly rich, aristocratic, pompous, snooty and dignified in their very impressive duds. The wigs sell the whole look if you ask me, really authentic looking.
I was also very impressed with Matthau's cockney English accent. He genuinely does a sterling job with it and comes across not American that's for sure. At the same time Damien Thomas as the preening perfume smelling 'Don Alfonso' is by far the stand out performance. You can truly see the disgust and contempt in his face for the wretched pirate scum, I really enjoyed his peacock-like display of regal superiority.
All the characters and extras look great and are accompanied by some luscious tropical locations and some nice olde worlde period ports (real locations). Did I mention the ship yet? no? well lemme tell you, it looks awesome. Fully realised to scale with a working motor so it can sail, completely detailed from top to bottom with everything you'd expect to see on a 17th Century Spanish vessel.
Yep its all visually stunning with good performances but unfortunately that's about it. There is very little of interest going on plot wise, the film is way too long and there isn't that much swashbuckling going on surprisingly. This isn't a silly fantasy flick nor is it a historically accurate flick, but it does bring a more down to earth approach to the genre. There isn't much flamboyant heroics here ladies and gentlemen, more like backstabbing with every man for himself, more genuine. No way is it as bad as suggested and I'm not sure why it didn't do better at the cinema, its a solid romp. Think along the lines of Richard Lester's Three Musketeer movies but with less comedy.
Politically incorrect here and there, Matthau plays it to the hilt (pun intended), and I admit I have a soft spot for the exiled pedophile's movie talent. Alleged . . .
Was my favorite film 20 years ago, just saw it yesterday after 10 years and is still very good. Highly recommended.