The curse of the pirate movie may be over. After box-office fiascos like Roman Polanski's Pirates and Renny Harlin's Cutthroat Island, director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer successfully revive this once-glorious genre with the fantasy-adventure Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Despite its derivation from a Disney theme-park ride, this is one of the more engaging of the summer blockbusters, thanks in large part to a clever screenplay by Shrek writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and devilish performances by Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush.

A supernatural element also stirs things up. The plot revolves around an ancient Aztec curse which has doomed the wicked Captain Barbossa (Rush) and his pirate crew to sail the seas as the undead, their true skeletal forms revealed only in the moonlight. The curse can only be reversed once they return every last piece of the treasure they plundered--and the one piece they need is a medallion in the possession of Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), the spirited daughter of a Caribbean island governor. When Barbossa kidnaps Elizabeth, his ghostly ship the Black Pearl is pursued by the British naval vessel the H.M.S. Interceptor, which has been commandeered by the unlikely team of motley pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) and Elizabeth's childhood friend, blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). The Interceptor is in turn trailed by the H.M.S. Dauntless, led by Elizabeth's outraged fianc, Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport). Boisterous battles, double-crosses, and a wily game of "Who's Got the Medallion?" ensue.

Any period adventure outside the mythological realm of a Lord of the Rings is a box-office risk these days, but Pirates of the Caribbean blends its 18th-century look with impressive 21st-century visual effects. The swordfights between the human actors and their ghoulish adversaries (reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen's skeleton skirmish in Jason and the Argonauts, the state-of-the-art of its day) are seamless, and the filmmakers often make grisly comedy out of the doomed pirates' sorry state.

The real comic gem of the movie, however, is Johnny Depp. Making an entrance worthy of his idol Buster Keaton--disembarking a sinking ship--the onetime teen idol again proves himself one of the most gifted physical actors working in movies today. His Sparrow is a self-adoring reprobate, slurring his words and always some degree of intoxicated; Depp manages to make something graceful and endearing out of Sparrow's sloppy style, sort of like an unwashed Ronald Colman on a bad bender.

Rush is wonderfully energetic as Barbossa, the very model of a vicious pirate with good reason to be angry at the world. The handsome Bloom, a Lord of the Rings fan favorite for his role as the blond elf Legolas, makes a dashing young hero, and Knightley, still turning heads in Bend It Like Beckham, is a very confident, feisty and attractive heroine. Jonathan Pryce is underused in the part of Elizabeth's ineffectual father, but he has one funny bit, wrestling with a disembodied hand while taking refuge in a ship's cabin.

Verbinski, coming off the hit horror film The Ring, keeps this lavish production moving swiftly, though at well over two hours it probably has one chase, battle or twist too many. If audiences can be persuaded to forget the recent pirate stigma, this Caribbean swashbuckler deserves to be a hit with kids of all ages.