Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

My first complaint about this coming of age movie ‘Pirate Radio’ is the fact that the movie has made the journey all the way from England to the United States of America with the title changed from the completely serviceable ‘The Boat that Rocked’ to the completely benign ‘Pirate Radio’. I might voluntarily go see a movie that called itself ‘The Boat that Rocked’ where as I had to be forcibly dispatched to go see a movie calling itself ‘Pirate Radio’. Same movie though right? Well, apparently not as the movie we get is different from the movie the Limey’s got which I’m told is already out on DVD over there. I’m also informed that the version they got is better than the one we get which kinda sucks for us. Regardless what we did get is a completely serviceable coming of age comedy with some cool music with your enjoyment of this movie, I’m thinking, increasing exponentially with how old you are. I’m talking really old. I’m mean as old as my dad old. And I’m not a young man.

In the mid 1960’s, a time known as the golden age of British Rock and Roll, and state sponsored radio played almost no popular music believing it to be crass and a portal gateway to lascivious behavior, alcoholism, unbridled sexuality and drug usage. After watching this movie you will find all of these things to be irrevocably true. Nonetheless rock and roll thrives due to off shore pirate radio stations such as the big ship Radio Rock which is parked somewhere in the North Sea and owned and operated by an older dude who is too hip for words named Quentin (Bill Nighy). Quentin’s boat, stocked full to the brim with colorful characters, plays all kinds of pop music 24-7 to millions of pop music hungry Brits. Quentin is also about to get a visitor to his ocean liner in his godson Carl (Tom Sturridge) who is being sent to Quentin by his mom because the 18 year old Carl has been a bad boy caught smoking nicotine and reefer. So we send him on a ship that plays rock and roll. Outstanding.

Carl actually serves as a guide of sorts as through him we meet our colorful characters such as the Yank DJ calling himself The Count (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the lecherous fat and funny Dave played by the seemingly lecherous but always fat and funny Nick Frost, and the legend known as Gavin (Ryhs Ifans) who instantly rubs The Count the wrong way. Not everybody loves rock and roll however, such as Sir Alastair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) an uptight politician who, with the help of an ambitious assistant with the curious name of Twatt (Jack Davenport), is fudging the laws to ban pirate radio from the airways forever.

While all that nonsense is going on back on the mainland, we get the privilege of hanging out with the zany antics of the Radio Rock DJ’s and its crew as they party hard, rock harder and try to turn our young boy Carl into a man. At least until The Boat that Rocked goes all Titanic on us. Somebody cue that Celine Dion.

Aside from being a little lengthy and paying homage to an awful lot of music that I’ve never heard before in my life, at least until they kicked in with some David Bowie and ‘Let’s Dance’ to close out the show… ‘Modern Love’ would still be the best song on that album by the by, I rather enjoyed ‘Pirate Radio’ despite its rather lame title change. This movie was written and directed by Richard Curtis who has written a crapload of these sweet ensemble British comedy pieces such as those ‘Bridget Jones Diary’ movies and ‘Notting Hill’ just to name a few, plus he’s old and British and his love of this music that he obviously grew up listening to is clear and apparent and this love bursts through the screen.

This is a very lightweight, wispy, fun type of film which is another reason that I dislike the title change because ‘The Boat that Rocked’ pretty much tells everything you need to know about this movie. There’s not a single real life legitimate character in this movie as they are all wacky caricatures based on generally assumed stereotypes, particularly Baranagh’s Lord Dormandy, and Mr. Curtis injects all kinds of forced melodrama into his movie such the overly dramatic Titanic moments and Carl’s search for the father he never had. And what good is Kenneth Branagh appearance without Nanny McPhee herself showing up to make an already very bright movie even brighter as only Emma Thompson can do?

All things considered ‘Pirate Radio’ is pretty inconsequential as there are much better historically based rock and roll films out there, but it is still entertaining, it is funny, and you can watch it for two plus hours and it won’t make your head hurt. It might rot your teeth, but it is still a good time getting to that point.

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