Blu-Ray Review: ‘Pirate Radio’ Aims to Please, Somewhat Succeeds

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CHICAGO – There are two ways moviegoers can respond to an unapologetic crowd-pleaser such as this: either resist its shamelessly manipulative fist-pumping, or dive into its pleasurably untroubled waters. The latter will certainly make for a better experience, though British filmmaker Richard Curtis certainly makes the former tempting at times.

It’s hard to believe that Curtis was once the cynical mastermind behind Rowan Atkinson’s hilarious “Black Adder” series. Once he turned to the genre of romantic comedy, Curtis suddenly seemed determined to make films that were aggressively upbeat, resulting in 2003’s delightful, though overly sugar-coated ensemble piece, “Love Actually.” He claimed that he made the picture to piss off critics who found his work too cloying, and his latest effort, “Pirate Radio,” seems to have been made with the same sentiment. Since the film’s title seems to change on a country-by-country basis, I’m convinced that Curtis simply should’ve called it, “Rock Actually.” Blu-Ray Rating: 3.0/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 3.0/5.0

This overlong nostalgic love letter to the music and spirit of the ’60s features a cast of gleeful goofballs who are ready to rock in the face of conformity. The plot, based loosely on real events, centers on a boatload of rogue DJs perched in the North Sea, who broadcast rock ‘n roll music 24/7 to a devoted fan-base of repressed British citizens. The onboard shenanigans are witnessed through the eyes of a young everyman (Tom Sturridge), who’s always on the lookout for his long-lost father…and perhaps a shag. Since rock has been banned from Britain’s airwaves, government big wigs are determined to shut down the station.

This real-life battle is played for broad, self-congratulatory laughs that have all the subtlety of a cartoon. Kenneth Branagh camps it up as the uptight villain, while Philip Seymour Hoffman (as the ship’s lone American DJ) channels an amped-up version of his music critic in “Almost Famous.” Curtis wisely gives his actors space to breathe, allowing them to spark off each other with relatively natural ease. Yet the ensemble is so over-crowded that few of the characters have enough screen time to play more than one note.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rhys Ifans share a moment with director Richard Curtis on the set of the new comedy Pirate Radio.Ê Photo Credit: Alex Bailey
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rhys Ifans share a moment with director Richard Curtis on the set of the new comedy Pirate Radio.
Photo credit: Alex Bailey

Though Curtis wants to sustain a whimsical tone throughout, his script routinely encounters serious subject matter that it would much rather shy away from. Every time a potential tragedy rears its party-pooping head, the characters emerge unscathed, at the expense of all possible credibility. This leads to a climax straight out of “Titanic,” with The Beach Boys’s “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” standing in for “Nearer My God To Thee.” Curtis blatantly ignores how Sturridge’s lack of a father figure is the obvious result of casual sex endorsed by the film’s liberated heroes. And yet, “Pirate Radio” manages to entertain in spite of its contradictions.

It has a soundtrack on par with “American Graffiti” in its illustration of an era, and the cast is a joy to watch. Ship captain Bill Nighy once again proves to be the king of off-handed one-liners, while Rhys Ifans (as a sexually charismatic DJ) keeps threatening to walk away with the picture. Curtis’s films are meant to be comfort food, and this cheerfully juvenile comedy is an agreeably flavorful dish, despite its rather stale aftertaste.

Pirate Radio was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on April 13th, 2010.
Pirate Radio was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on April 13th, 2010.
Photo credit: Universal Home Entertainment

“Pirate Radio” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio) and accompanied by English, Spanish and French audio tracks. The BD-Live-enabled disc includes a pocketBLU app for iPhone or iPod Touch, as well as an audio commentary that is exclusive to Blu-Ray. Featuring Curtis, co-stars Nick Frost and Chris O’Dowd, and producer Hilary Bevan Jones, this commentary is mostly just a chuckle-fest with few insights. The director gushes over a camera’s counter-zoom, admits that none of his favorite lines in the film were scripted, and jokes that the BFI gives you money if your film satirizes the government.

There are also 19 minutes of equally frivolous mini-featurettes that follow the filmmakers from their five-week shoot on a real boat to their in-studio work on land. One featurette focuses on the filming of a deleted scene where seductive DJ Midnight Mark (Tom Wisdom) is found with 35 nude women; Curtis calls it “the best bit in the movie.”

It’s one of many bits featured in the disc’s excellent array of deleted scenes, some of which are more entertaining than anything in the actual film. Curtis provides optional introductions to nearly all of the scenes, bringing their combined running time to over an hour. He’s clearly disappointed by the film’s box office failure, and admits that while many of these deleted scenes fail to move the plot forward, they may have resulted in a more successful picture. The scenes supply character motivations for several supporting players, expand on woefully underdeveloped subplots, and provide actors like Branagh and Nighy with more moments to shine.

A sequence where the DJs sabotage a rival ship, Radio Sunshine, is closest to the anarchic spirit of Curtis’s stated inspiration, Robert Altman’s “MASH.” Other great moments include Hoffman’s heartfelt monologue about the Beatles, and Ifans’s dance to the Stones’s “Get Off Of My Cloud.” His dancing is so infectious that it’s guaranteed to get you on your feet.

‘Pirate Radio’ is released by Universal Home Entertainment and stars Tom Sturridge, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Chris O’Dowd, Rhys Darby, Tom Wisdom, Katherine Parkinson, Kenneth Branagh, Jack Davenport, Talulah Riley and Emma Thomspon. It was written and directed by Richard Curtis. It was released on April 13th, 2010. It is rated R. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

Staff Writer

jpierce23's picture

Well Worth Seeing

I have been wanting to see this movie since I saw the trailer for the very first time. This week I finally got the opportunity. The plot sounded interesting and I was hoping to see a comedy that wasn’t as predictable and forced romantic as a lot of comedies are. I wasn’t disappointed. Sure, this isn’t the most profound story ever told, but I wanted to have fun, and this movie definitely gave it to me. Another bonus is the great soundtrack, which carries the whole movie. This film is funny from the beginning to the end, and there were moments when I couldn’t stop laughing. If you want to see a feel-good movie with a plot that was, at least as far as I know, not used before, than this is the right film for you.

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