While hordes of young girls swarmed in and out of theaters showing Twilight: New Moon last night, I forced my friends to go to the star-studded comedy Pirate Radio, about a group of disc jockeys on a ship off the coast of England who broadcasted "illegal" rock ‘n roll music during the 1960's. In other words, I forced my friends to watch an uninformative, plot-less and pointless movie for $10, which was about $9.50 too much.
Known as The Boat That Rocked in the UK, where the movie also flopped, Pirate Radio stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh, January Jones and Emma Thompson, among others. The movie is directed by Richard Curtis, who wrote such classics as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones's Diary and one of my personal favorites, Love Actually (of which he also directed). Based on the talent alone, I was expecting good things.
However, I shouldn't have overlooked the fact that this is only Curtis' second directorial effort and that while responsible for writing some great comedies, he's also the one to blame for movies like Mr. Bean's Holiday and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Pirate Radio easily falls right alongside these latter movies, only it is much worse than either of them.
Pirate Radio is based on a true story, and so I assumed it was going to be about the formation of this group of DJ "pirates" and the government's efforts to take them off the air. But in reality, it is a loosely assembled grouping of comical scenes that carry little weight and even less narrative. Scene by scene, there are enough funny moments to keep you occupied, but Curtis appears to have been completely uninterested in having a plot or purpose. The closest thing to a story is a young man's efforts to have sex with a girl for the first time (which is challenging since there is only one woman on the boat, and she's 100 percent lesbian), but even that story is uninspired.
The movie has plenty of big names and/or recognizable faces, but none of them are given much time to flesh out their characters. This quite possibly could be the least challenging role of Hoffman's career; he only gets a few devoted scenes, none of which are very funny or dramatic. Nighy is in the film simply to deliver sarcastic one-liners, and while Frost is funny, the movie never explores his character, nor any others, to a satisfying degree.
The amount of conflict in the picture is shockingly minimal; in one scene, the young guy (Tom Sturridge, who is unremarkable as the alleged "lead") is about to lose his virginity, but when he comes back after finding a condom to use, the girl he was about to do it with has somehow already bedded with another guy on the ship. But by the next scene, everything is back to normal and there are no hard feelings left to sort out. In another sequence, the gorgeous January Jones (the wife in "Mad Men") shows up to get married to one guy, only to inform him shortly after their wedding that she actually wants to be with another DJ. It's an incredibly cruel moment, but within a matter of minutes the problem is resolved and, once again, there are no hard feelings between the two men in question.
More importantly, the real villains of the film, two government men responsible for taking down the broadcast (Kenneth Branagh and Jack Davenport), are given so little screen time and character development that their entire presence is completely useless. It would have been neat to see a portrayal of the government's actual efforts to take them down, but these two men feel like caricatures, nothing more. Oddly, the movie never truly resolves their character arcs, either, which stems from a larger problem with Pirate Radio.
The most disappointing part of the movie, aside from it lacking plot and purpose, is that while it is allegedly based on true events, none of it is even remotely close to historical fact or even feels like it. Pirate Radio has no substance whatsoever, and is concluded by one of the most dreadful endings I've seen in a long time. The ending is drawn out, cheesy and completely over-the-top, which destroyed what was already a shaky foundation to begin with.
On the positive side, the soundtrack for the movie is absolutely excellent, featuring tons of classic rock ‘n roll songs that are still great to this day. Unfortunately, rock ‘n roll can't save this disaster.
Pirate Radio has some funny moments and great music, but the film's complete disinterest in telling a compelling story makes it hard to sit through. Capped by a truly painful ending, Pirate Radio is definitely not the boat that rocked.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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