Chaotic, but ‘Pirate Radio’ works

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Michael Goulding/Orange County Register/KRT

Richard Curtis makes romantic, sentimental and overlong
comedies filled to the rafters with friends as cast-members. He’s a British
Judd Apatow — indulgent, substituting sweetness for edge, charm for shock
value.

His latest, Pirate Radio, is as jolly, jaunty
and sappy as Love Actually. It was cut by over half an hour for
American release and still plays long. But thanks to that fairy-dusting of
Curtis charm, I wouldn’t cut a frame of it. It skips by like a much-loved old
LP.

It’s about the heyday of offshore “pirate radio”
stations — broadcasting from old merchant ships to a Britain dying to hear the
Golden Age of British pop, but denied it by the staid BBC.

Curtis (Blackadder, Four Weddings and a
Funeral
) fills the good ship Radio Rock with his usual dizzy cast of
castaways — the owner-operator is the dapper and vulpine Quentin (Bill Nighy,
naturally). The star DJ is a Yank, The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who is
only too happy to be the first to say the F-word on British airwaves. Then
there’s Midnight Mark, a Jim Morrison wannabe (Tom Wisdom), Bob the Dawn
Treader, Thick Kevin and Big Bad Dave (hilarious Nick Frost). The return of the
legendary Gorgeous Gavin (Rhys Ifans, the perfect pop peacock) creates friction
as he steals The Count’s thunder and another DJ’s woman.

It’s 1966, and they’re all stuck on a rusty red hulk in the
North Sea, where they live, sleep, drink and kick out the jams. Young and
virginal Carl (Tom Sturridge) joins up after being kicked out of school.
“Virginal” drives his shipmates mad as they scheme of ways to
“fix” that.

Also scheming is Sir Alistair (Kenneth Branagh), an absurdly
priggish government minister who fumes about ways to “shut that filth
off.”

Curtis runs women to and from the ship — giving sexy scenes
to Gemma Arterton and Emma Thompson. January Jones of Mad Men plays
a woman who marries a DJ, and the pop-loving/wedding loving Curtis treats us to
the DJs serenading the lovely Elenore with the (1968) pop song of the same name
— “You’re my pride and joy, et cetera!”

He shot much of the movie —DJs seducing the microphone,
legions of Brits of every description panting at their every word — with a
handheld camera, giving the film a jittery, pop energy.

The young lead is bland, scenes and characters seem invented
just to justify using a song and the whole feels as chaotic and unfinished as
the ’60s. But something — the music, the nostalgia, the anarchy — gives Pirate Radio a little slovenly heart.

I know it’s only rock ‘n’ roll. But I like it.

Pirate Radio

3 stars (out of 5)

Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Emma
Thompson, January Jones, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh

Director: Richard Curtis

Running time: 1 hour 52 minutes.

Industry rating: R for language, and some sexual content
including brief nudity

Roger Moore reviews movies for the Orlando Sentinel. Via
McClatchy-Tribune News Service.