The Boat That Rocked
2/5       US title: Pirate Radio
dir-scr Richard Curtis
with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Sturridge, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Kenneth Branagh, Nick Frost, Talulah Riley, Jack Davenport, Chris O'Dowd, January Jones, Gemma Arterton, Emma Thompson
release UK 3.Apr.09, US 28.Aug.09
09/UK Working Title 2h15
The Boat That Rocked
On the air: Hoffman

nighy ifans branagh
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Boat That Rocked Curtis ambitiously stirs action and tragedy into his usual mix of romance, comedy and politics, but the resulting film is all over the place. It looks and sounds great, but none of the elements come together.

It's 1966 and the British public is desperate for rock music, which is unavailable on the BBC; they can only hear it on pirate stations. And this is where young Carl (Sturridge) finds himself sent to live with his godfather (Nighy), who manages Radio Rock, based on a ship in international waters. Carl quickly becomes part of the family, which includes a bunch of lively deejays (including Hoffman, Ifans and Frost). Meanwhile, a sneering government minister (Branagh) and his assistant (Davenport) vow to shut them down.

The film strikes a snappy, lively tone from the start, focusing on the anarchic radio team and their witty banter. It's a male-only world on the boat, with the exception of the token lesbian (a thankless role for Katherine Parkinson) and the occasional boatload of lust-crazed babes. Yes, these females are all stereotypical sex objects, played in the broadest ways. Even sillier are Branagh and Davenport's comedy villains, which reduce the film's most interesting aspect (government resistance to a populist movement) into pointless, soulless conflict. They hate pirate radio just because they do.

Nothing in the film is any more complicated than that. Curtis writes great dialog, and the period music is terrific. But his direction is clunky, the photography is colourful but murky and the editing is extremely slack. Especially in the final act, when the plot devolves into a series of corny pranks, repetitive montages and wacky star cameos.

Along the way, a few actors rise out of the pack. Nighy is always watchable, Hoffman does the most with his under-written role, and Frost emerges as the film's funniest character. But at the centre, Sturridge is like a black hole. It's extremely odd to see such a busy, energetic movie that simply can't hold our interest at all. And we watch in disbelief as Curtis strains for several big emotional moments and even a massive action/effects sequence. There's a good movie about pirate radio in here, but this really (ahem!) misses the boat.

cert 15 themes, strong language, innuendo 5.Mar.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall