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Genre Comedy
Running Time 116 min
Release Date Nov 13, 2009
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Pirate Radio

In 1966, BBC radio broadcasts less than an hour of pop music a day, forcing pirate DJs to take up the slack from boats anchored outside British waters. Quentin (Bill Nighy) is the commander of such a pirate station, overseeing a host of seedy, lusty and dope-smoking DJs, including the Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Dave (Nick Frost), who makes it his personal mission to see to it that Quentin's newly arrived godson (Tom Sturridge) loses his virginity.

Philip Hoffman The Count
Bill Nighy Quentin
Rhys Ifans Gavin
Nick Frost Dave
Kenneth Branagh Dormandy
Tom Sturridge Carl
Chris O'Dowd Simon
Tom Brooke Thick Kevin
Rhys Darby Angus "The Nut" Nutsford
Will Adamsdale On-the-Hour John

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338 reviews
Dec 02, 2009 - THEMO on Pirate Radio
'Pirate' runs aground with a jumbled story (Our grade: C+)

No movie in which the droll, ultrahip Bill Nighy is allowed to dance could be all bad, and rom-com savant Richard Curtis' "Pirate Radio," an attempt to conjure the rebel essence of '60s rock in England, does offer the spirited gyrations not only of Nighy but also of less-reserved talents such as "Hot Fuzz" co-star Nick Frost.

Some soups are less than the sum of their ingredients, though, and this tale of a boat broadcasting rock 'n' roll from beyond Her Majesty's reach can't cope with the embarrassment of riches in its cast, subject and soundtrack. As in "Love Actually," Curtis delivers many broadly accessible moments of pleasure without assembling them into something worthwhile.

Many greater filmmakers than Curtis have tried and failed to capture those rapturous moments in which the right song hits the right ears at the right moment in life. "Pirate Radio" only gets close in its first sequence, where a young boy lets his parents believe he's slumbering innocently while actually he's ecstatically awake, radio beneath his pillow as he connects to a world far wilder than his own.

That blissfully intimate, bedroom-to-airwaves connection is nicely echoed with a quick succession of shots set in other darkened rooms, but Curtis dilutes the image and succumbs to clichã by returning throughout the film to shots of workers, maids and students huddled around their radios while such DJs as "The Count" (Philip Seymour Hoffman) unleash not only the Kinks and the Who — music the BBC would not yet put on air — but also their own hedonistic banter.

Hoffman is both the most earthy of Radio Rock's on-air personalities and the ship's sole American, which makes him a natural outsider — poking holes in the contrived cool of a rival DJ (Rhys Ifans); rallying the troops when the station is threatened by priggish bureaucrat Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh, chewing scenery as if he can't wait to spit it out); and, some viewers might feel, quietly admitting to himself that the rock film he's currently in is hopelessly square compared to "Almost Famous."

As in "Almost Famous" (where Hoffman played legendary rock critic Lester Bangs), "Pirate Radio" experiences rock's rebellion through the eyes of a relative innocent: Tom Sturridge's Carl, a student who gets in a bit of trouble at school and is sent by his mother, inexplicably, to live on the ship with his godfather (Nighy, the station's owner). But Carl's path to love and self-discovery is thin stuff compared to "Famous," and the episodes he witnesses onboard prove to be just that — anecdotes, some funny and some less so, that don't tell much of a story.

Curtis' attempt to squeeze some narrative satisfaction into the film's third act just makes things worse: A shipwreck, in which our heroes and their music appear destined to plunge to the depths, tempts the filmmaker into any number of hokey images, not the least of which is the scene where an aging DJ looks fully ready to die rather than let go of a chest holding his most treasured LPs.

Audiences will recognize that as nonsense — a gesture that, like the closing titles that damn pop music with insipid praise, fails to convince us that Richard Curtis ever really felt one of the immortal records around which he built this movie.

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