Full of Static

In Pirate Radio, the plot and tone don’t rock at all. It’s a movie adrift.

I’d have thought, what with the spirited information and entertainment free-for-all that the Internet is, that a movie made today about outlaw broadcasters in the 1960s would be more, I dunno, interesting, relevant, satirical. Or at least earnest and funny.

Blogs and YouTube are the pirate radio of the 2000s, and yet there isn’t even a hint that writer-director Richard Curtis (of Love, Actually and Notting Hill fame) sees any connection to today. And maybe even that would have been fi ne, had Curtis demonstrated, in just some teeny-tiny way, that he had anything at all to say in this mess of a misbegotten would-be comedy.

There were indeed offshore pirate radio ships broadcasting from off the coast of England in the 1960s when the BBC held a monopoly on the offi cial airwaves in that country and refused to play popular entertainment, like the rock ’n’ roll that everyone loved. And Pirate Radio is based on one of those real stations, Radio Carolina, which was moored in the North Sea and beamed the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan to eager landlubber ears. The fi ctional Radio Rock and its ilk are “a sewer of dirty, irresponsible socialism and low morals,” according to government minister Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh), and it’s true that the boat, upon which a band of DJs live and work, is a like a frat house. But it’s the music Dormandy is worried about, and the sexually suggestive patter of the DJs, not how they’re living. So, with his sidekick paper-pushing “private assassin” (Jack Davenport), he sets out to shut them down.

But all the political maneuvering happens as sporadic asides.

The story — about the guys on the boat — is all episodic anecdotes better suited to a sitcom. Our eyes and ears on the boat are those of teenager Carl (Tom Sturridge), whose mother has sent him to visit her old friend, Quentin (Bill Nighy), the station’s manager, owner, and captain, in the hopes that... well, we never quite know much at all about Carl, where his young life had supposedly gone wrong and how his mother hoped a sojourn aboard Radio Rock would fi x that. He’s just there to be amused by the antics of the DJs, a motley assortment portrayed by likeable actors ill used here, including Nick Frost, Chris O’Dowd, Rhys Ifans, Philip Seymour Hoffman and others.

Pirate Radio has an unpleasant tone throughout, and it feels desperate to fi nd any kind of humor in its heightened unreality. And though Curtis can’t seem to fi nd any traction with any of what passes for his plot, that doesn’t stop him from letting it tread water — in the end, quite literally — for far too long.

Spokane Jewish Cultural Film Festival @ Gonzaga University Jepson Center

Through Feb. 5
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About The Author

Maryann Johanson

Maryann Johanson