Pirate Radio

November, 2009, Comedy




Here’s a British comedy, (with a most unlikely and unnecessary Yankee star) that probably would have worked better as one of those extended essays which grace the pages of a magazine like The New Yorker, detailing specific incidents in pop culture masquerading as serious social commentary. Written and directed by Richard Curtis, the same man who provided audiences with the cloying Love Actually half a decade ago, Pirate Radio was originally released in Great Brian last year as The Boat That Rocked ; unfortunately, a year of aging and a new title haven’t made an appreciable improvement in the finished product. As was true of his previous treacle, Curtis loads this examination of England’s’ “swingin’ 60’s” with some clever performances, but situates them in a script that reeks of smarmy condescension.


The title refers to the boats anchored just outside British territorial  waters during the late sixties to beam rock ‘n roll music to citizens living under the Union Jack who were unable to hear this type of music over the BBC, which at the time held monopolistic rights to broadcasting in the U.K.


Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, (the best part of innumerable British films) and Rhys Ifans (Hugh Grant’s scruffy roommate in Notting Hill) head a cast of loopy misfits who dish out pop music, 24/7, from the bowels of a rotting merchant ship off the west coast of England. Nighy, at his fey best (and dressed to a sartorial standard that would make a Savile Row tailor blush) presides over a team of DJ’s only Rolling Stone would appreciate. His nemesis is played by Kenneth Branagh, who vamps his way through the role of Sir Alistair Dormandy, the cabinet member assigned the thankless task of eliminating the floating musical competition on behalf of the government.


Nobody does nerdy like our British cousins and Curtis brings a bracing vitality to the vulgarities of a half dozen renegade male disc jockeys who have “birds” delivered on board once a fortnight to service their libidinal needs…but eccentricity cannot substitute for a plot and this movie’s storyline is so miniscule it could be elaborately detailed on the amount of paper required to stuff a Chinese fortune cookie.


There are some very clever bits of nonsense thrown in from time to time by a cast largely unknown to American audiences, but the film begins to drag after 15 minutes or so and goes steadily more uninteresting from then on. Along the way to its inevitably upbeat conclusion, Pirate Radio manages to whitewash the considerable social damage done to many members of a generation of young people who bought too heavily into the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll ethos” of the period…


More distressingly, what is Hoffman doing in this piece of fluff? His part calls for none of the actor’s  singular talents and the climatic speech he delivers about the crucial role rock played in the lives of young people during this era is simply embarrassing, (as is the actor’s girth, unless he shot his scenes while preparing to play Falstaff).


There’s a terrific  soundtrack of period rock hits which makes sitting through Pirate tolerable…but you’d be better off just buying it rather than taking the time and spending the money to see this one …


The verdict? More hole than donut.

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