Richard Curtis’ silly, random, and plot-less ode to rock n’ roll, comedy easily overcomes any of its own short comings by having a knock out cast and a number of good laughs along the way.
Back in the sixties when British rock was at an all time high, the British government didn’t allow the music to be broadcast over the radio. To counter act this a number of rebel sects launched pirate radio stations that broadcast from the North Sea evading laws and circumventing the bans by the government controlled stations. Our focus is on a boat/station Radio Rock that is full of interesting characters/DJ’s that allow for some weird and wacky fun to unfold over the course of the film. The problem that some people will find with the film though is its lack of any real structure or plot. If you can look past this, which isn’t too hard to do, then you will find plenty of fun to be had along the way.
Plots that pop up are a mystery around a young crew member’s father, many ups and downs of the sexual escapades, a wedding, and many moments of getting to know these characters better by watching them interact and goof around with each other. The film rolls through the course of a year over the two hour film and we jump around weeks at a time on the boat and while the crew’s only mission is to spread the gospel of rock and roll we stop and pause to get a look at some of their finer moments. From attempts to de-virgin a crew member, games of Delinquents, and an elaborate game of chicken between rival DJ’s, nothing really happens of consequence but remains a blast to watch. The closest thing to a plot in the film is the impending closure of the pirate radio stations by the government spear headed by a government official who tries everything to make their actions illegal to stop their poisoning of their countries youth.
The film does fall a bit flat on occasion and is almost ridiculously convenient and over the top with its good nature, but it never hurts to have a movie with exuberant good spirits I guess; they could have made this one hell of a tragedy though. The soundtrack is also top notch from start to finish, though oddly missing The Beatles, but you will recognize every hit they blare through the radio and they do some cute and clever cues to correspond with the action on screen.
The cast is also wonderful with a largely British cast of faces that you will probably recognize and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the American face on the boat. Hoffman is not at all the lead of the film, as it is a true ensemble piece but he brings his usual excellence to the loud mouthed and crude Count. Bill Nighy is also great as the owner/captain figure on the ship and is as cool as cucumber and getting to have fun instead of playing a grouchy villain as he usually is cast as. Rhys Darby, or Murray from Flight of the Conchords, has his second successive supporting role spouting off hilarity every time he opens his mouth. Nick Frost is fun as the sexual smooth talker Dave and has a number of quality lines sprinkled through out. Kenneth Branagh and Jack Davenport are a lively combo that keep the off ship action just as funny and silly while disguised as the silly section of the film. And the rest of the crew shines as well, without a weak link in the bunch, I just wish there was more January Jones!
In the end, Pirate Radio is a fun comedy that rarely misses a beat and never drops a joke. While there might not be a plot or cohesive story, the characters and hi-jinks they get into are way to fun to not enjoy and will have you forgiving the occasional slow spot that crops up here or there. If you like the British, rock n’ roll, or Phillip Seymour Hoffman than this one shouldn’t be missed.
Pirate Radio is a B+
P.S. This film was released in England at a running time of about twenty minutes longer and was called The Boat That Rocked for any of you that seem to have thought they saw something about this before under a different name.