Who’s In It: Bill Nighy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Nick Frost, Tom Sturridge, Kenneth Branagh, Rhys Ifans, Emma Thompson, January Jones
The Basics: A ragtag band of radio disc jockeys (Nick Frost, Rhys Ifans, Philip Seymour Hoffman) pump the airwaves of 1960s Britain with illegal, immoral rock ‘n’ roll music – gasp! – while a stuffy bureaucrat (Kenneth Branagh) tries to shut them down. Meanwhile, troubled teenager Carl (the pouty-lipped Tom Sturridge) comes aboard to mull over his future and possibly meet the father he never knew. Rock ‘n’ roll! Or something.
What’s The Deal With That Title: It’s no secret that Pirate Radio used to be called The Boat That Rocked, and that its studio recut and renamed it to play better in the States after a disappointing UK debut. Did the edits help? It’s hard to say. You won’t miss the 20 extra minutes of run time or the additional standalone subplots in this already crowded ensemble dramedy. A last act turn of events seems awfully contrived just to create drama. And with so many colorful characters onboard, this boat feels loaded down with one or two too many caricatures that the writers could have thrown overboard.
Who Rocks The Boat: Clearly, the cast of Pirate Radio is having fun. Bill Nighy is at his flamboyant best as the dapper station boss Quentin, who may or may not be Carl’s father. Nick Frost is delightfully sensual -- and strips down to his birthday suit -- as the chunky ladies man, Dr. Dave. As bitter rivals, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rhys Ifans are fun to watch, even if their mano-a-mano face-off resolves itself too contritely. And 23-year-old Tom Sturridge has a complexion so creamy and a face so beautiful that it wouldn’t matter a bit if he was awful or not. (He’s not.)
Characters I Could Do Without: Kenneth Branagh overdoes it as the bespectacled, Hitler mustache-wearing Minister hell-bent on creating a law to shut down all pirate radio stations. Branagh was more subtle playing a foppish wizard in the Harry Potter films than he is here.
Those Inevitable Sinking Ship Metaphors: It’s not the performances that weigh Pirate Radio down, but its tonal inconsistencies, silly plotting, and a lethal lack of soul. Writer-director Richard Curtis, who has a thing for sweetly resolved dramatics (see Love, Actually, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Notting Hill) immerses us in daily snapshots of life aboard the Radio Rock ship, then abruptly shifts into melodramatic mode late in the game. The resulting conclusion is sappy and amiable; it feels as if Curtis set the turntable to the wrong speed.
The Boat That Swayed Mildly: Pirate Radio’s worst offense is that its use of classic pop and rock tunes falls off the mark; you never feel a connection between its DJs and the songs they’re spinning for millions of unseen, adoring listeners (save for one scene that makes great emotional use of Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.”) Considering that it includes some of the most recognizable tracks by bands like The Kinks, the Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, The Supremes, David Bowie, and The Who, Pirate Radio’s soundtrack plays like a Starbucks compilation – it hits familiar notes, but feels distinctly soulless.