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Pirate Radio: The Movie That Rocked

Courtney Eckerle | Monday, November 16, 2009

Originally called “The Boat That Rocked” in the U.K., the name change to “Pirate Radio” is literally banking on American’s ability to make a hit (or hits) out of anything having to do with the outlaws of the ocean. This second film out of Richard Curtis, writer and director of “Love, Actually” doesn’t fail in bringing these paisley and leather clad square pegs seamlessly together in a total ramshackle comedy.  
Opening in the year 1966 and going through an epic year in the life of a rebel fraternity of disc jockeys with enough mojo to make Austin Powers look like a total drip, “Pirate Radio” capitalizes upon every possible stereotype imaginable about the time period, including the most outlandish outfits possible, with Rhys Ifans’ character DJ Gavin often looking exactly like Snoop Dogg in the remake of “Starsky and Hutch.” However, its hazy and floral-filled take on life makes for a spectacular romp through time, even pulling off possibly the most epic game of chicken ever conducted, and also is the first time the words “hep cat” have been used naturally in about 40 years. With headliners like The Who, Smokey Robinson and The Kinks, the music is practically another character, and one that is so stellar, the rest of the action has a hard time keeping up.
      A nearly unrecognizable Sir Kenneth Branagh’s performance as essentially “The Man,” or a prudish BBC government minister, is spectacularly rigid, with the bland boxy-ness of his scenes completely contrasting with the colorful and swift-changing frames on the ship. The only color in his wardrobe is fantastically aristocratic pinky ring that only someone with a crest or Italian with “connections” could possibly pull off. He also has what some might categorize as an unhealthy obsession with the Queen. His character contrasts greatly with the always sublime, always slightly tipsy seeming Bill Nighy, who has played a pirate before in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy, and has not lost his roguish touch in playing the ship’s more business-minded leader, Quentin.  
Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman plays essentially the same character as he did in “Almost Famous,” although that is definitely not a bad thing. Just picture this role as a prequel to his 1970s counterpart. The comparison also begs the question further into the movie – why must all rock and roll movies have a near death scene? It takes ‘live fast, die young’ to a spectacular level.   
Adorable newcomer Tom Sturridge plays young Carl, who will steal every anglophile’s heart as the quintessential bashful, pale, shaggy haired British boy. In fact, the only way they can make his near total inexperience with girls plausible is by mentioning he has spent his whole life at all boys schools. As our guide through this boat, he does his job well in providing an outsiders view of the odd crew, including a particularly fascinating pirate named Thick Kevin, who is either very dumb or downright brilliant, also a quick cameo by Emma Thompson makes for a strong female presence in this otherwise fraternal escapade.  
If this movie is one thing, it is rock and roll. It’s fun, careless and what-the-hell spirit make “Pirate Radio” heartwarming batch of vigilantism. It’s fun for sure, but don’t expect anything but shallow waters when it comes to a good look at the movie’s historical inspiration, Radio Caroline. However, there is no denying the comedic energy of this amazing cast.