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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Radio ‘pirates’ set sail for mediocrity

    If you love the music of the ’60s but weren’t alive for its heyday, and if you haven’t seen “”Taking Woodstock,”” “”Almost Famous,”” or “”Across The Universe,”” and if you’d rather watch misanthropic British dick jockeys try to get laid on the high seas instead of listening to vinyl in the privacy of your own incense-oozing bedroom, then Avast, ye rockers! “”Pirate Radio”” be the movie for you.

    If, however, you have a legitimate interest in the history of 1960s offshore broadcasting in the United Kingdom, save yer doubloons; you’ll find more historical fact in Davy Jones’ waterlogged diary.

    “”Pirate Radio”” is the newest from director Richard Curtis, the storyteller responsible for the doubly loved and loathed “”Love Actually”” and “”Bridget Jones”” flicks, and will likely elicit the same binary response from American audiences. 

    Re-chopped from “”The Boat That Rocked,”” which was met with dismal box office results in the U.K. when it premiered this April, “”Pirate Radio”” is the fictionalized account of Radio Rock, the finest ocean liner/radio station ever to sail the North Sea.

    The year is 1966, the alleged “”Golden Age of Rock and Roll”” according to a cursory title card at the film’s intro, and the stodgy bureaucrats who run England have outlawed rock music. Total buzz kill, man! But all is not lost, because a rebellious American DJ called simply The Count (played by a grizzly Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his most understated roles in recent memory) and his ragtag crew of jockeys have taken to the seas where they may disseminate the devil’s music 24-7. Far out!

    The conflict? Well, for most of the film there really isn’t one.

    Back on the mainland the paunchy Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) — the Dean Wormer to Radio Rock’s “”Animal House”” — and his misfortunately-named henchman Twatt (Jack Davenport) work to shut down the radio pirates, but their insidious plans are tirelessly repelled in an inconsequential roadrunner-and-coyote dynamic.

    The brunt of “”Pirate Radio,”” in fact, has nothing to do with radio: the narrative is driven by the collective crewmembers of Radio Rock trying to cope with the rigors of living on a boat full of men between periodic conjugal visits from gawking female fans. Hoffman’s Count, marketed heavily as the daring American who saved rock music from the limeys, is not even the protagonist, and is perhaps given an aggregate 30 minutes of screen time throughout the film’s myriad sexcapades.

    The true protagonist is a youngster named Carl (Tom Sturridge) who has been surreptitiously assigned to the Radio Rock crew by his mother in an attempt to reunite him with his estranged father. This father/son side plot is hastily overshadowed, though, by Carl’s attempts to lose his virginity, which encompasses the entire first act of the film.

    So, the plot may be a bit willy-nilly — that’s to be expected from such a champion of trite ensemble comedy — but what about the rock? The film’s soundtrack, which features such iconic rockers as The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Jimi Hendrix, is a rebellious rocker’s delight, despite being a glaring anachronism to the film’s ’66 context (many songs, especially David Bowie’s “”Let’s Dance”” came years later).

    The cast, composed of such commanding personalities as Hoffman, Bill Nighy (“”Love Actually,”” Davy Jones from Bruckheimer’s “”Pirates””), Nick Frost (“”Hot Fuzz,”” “”Shaun of The Dead””) and Rhys Ifans (“”Little Nicky””) should be another saving grace. The plot moves so briskly between rock music montages and irrelevant bonding vignettes, though, that it’s impossible to give any particular character any allegiance besides the horny, young Carl.

    In a BBC interview, director Curtis claimed that his film was not meant to be an accurate recounting of the history of pirate radio, but was rather meant for pure entertainment. In this respect “”Pirate Radio”” is somewhat successful. What it presents is not history, but a romantic mythologizing of what history could have been — a drawn-out, often-irrelevant mythology delivered via endless montages of romance and rebellion, but a watchable mythology nonetheless.

    Hop aboard “”Pirate Radio”” with the family or the significant other if you want to keelhaul two hours of your life, but don’t expect to uncover any buried treasure.

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