pirate radioFocus Features
2009
R

“The way I look at it, the world couldn’t survive without my comedy, and who’s going to have the moral backbone to play the Seekers when the mood is right?”
“They’ve split up.”
“I intend to celebrate the back catalogue.”
“I intend to stop you doing so.”

It’s 1966–pop music’s finest era–and a bunch of ramshackle DJs play rock & pop 24 hours a day, broadcasting from Radio Rock, an infamous pirate radio ship in the North Sea. On board arrives 18-year-old Carl, which is instantly plunged into a serious of hilarious and life-changing adventures and misadventures. His mother thought the boat would straighten him out–a spectacular mistake!

I don’t often watch non-horror movies. And I don’t always often watch non-horror movies that exist in the genre of “comedy”. And if you’re expecting some kind of wry attempt at that particular meme, I’m afraid you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Anyway, once in a while I do fancy a nice funny ha-ha movie, especially when it involves my long-time hobby as an on-air DJ enthusiast. And despite the lackluster hype blurb on the back of the DVD case, taking a gander at the list of actors staring in this flick was enough to get me to check this movie out. Bill Nighy? Nick Frost? Kenneth Branagh? Philip Seymour Hoffman? I figured I was in for a treat.

So, I should really point out to those who weren’t aware (or cared), that Pirate Radio was the name of the movie that was given to the American release. This being a British film, over across the pond (as they say), the movie is known as The Boat That Rocked. I’m unsure as to which one would be the optimum title overall. I mean, the original title has that subtle British quality of pun. But, the American title kind of plays off of our current obsession with pirates. Eh, pointless bunny trail, this. Let’s get to the movie, shall we?

Set in the height of the Swingin’ Sixties, the story mostly takes place on a ship that’s anchored in the North Sea, a ship that broadcasts all the rock n’ roll you can handle on a 24-7-365 basis. You see, the BBC doesn’t believe that the morally corruptive devil music that is rock and/or roll should be officially broadcast over their airwaves, so this nautical pirate radio popped up to fill that much needed void in everyone’s lives. It is on this derelict barge that young Carl was sent to after being expelled from school, as his godfather runs the station. One has to wonder what kind of rehabilitation his mother was expecting a boat full of quirky rock n’ roll dee jays with a rebellious streak to give, but needless to say it doesn’t take long for the staff to take Carl under their unorthodox tutelage, showing him how to stick it to The Man with rock n’ roll…and have lots of fun doing it. Less wackiness ensues, as does hijinks on the high seas, I guess.

In execution, Pirate Radio (or The Boat That Rocked, depending on what country you’re reading this at) seems less of a narrative and more of a series of situations thrown together that don’t really advance a story in the traditional movie watchin’ sense. This seems more a collection of snippets from a failed situation comedy thrown together, with some footage of a bit of a plot filmed to give the movie more of a narrative.

It’s not to say Pirate Radio is a bad movie. It’s highly entertaining, with some fantastic performances from the mostly-British cast working off each other wonderfully. The movie got quite a few chuckles, a handful of chortles, and a couple of outright laughs. The soundtrack is fantastic, featuring a lot of deeper cuts from the era. It does drag a bit at certain areas, though, and the sub-plot (for lack of better word) of the government minister’s various attempts to shut the boat down seemed more shoehorned in as an afterthought.

Overall, Pirate Radio was an entertaining, if disjointed, period comedy. It’s worth a rental look, at the very least.