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With Jim Sabatini

Pirate Radio

Pirate Radio
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost and Kenneth Branagh

Rated: R for language, and some sexual content including brief nudity
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: November 13, 2009 Released by: Focus Features

This period comedy has a witty irreverence going for it for awhile, appeasing some discerning filmgoers into ensemble acting and story. Especially those in and into the radio business.

Like its title, Pirate Radio, what's good, nostalgic and rollicking, becomes drawn out, even with a shortened final product, and literally starts to drown within all of its music and social chaos.

Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, and Kenneth Branagh, director and scribe Richard Curtis ambitious and quippishly signals into underground radio in the middle of the North Sea circa 1966 that really had an effect on Britain. Too bad his dabbling of comedy, politics, and romance doesn't become as soulful as his first, if flawed helming assignment, Love, Actually, became.

Not just pre-teens staying up late, but even ordinary adults want something to stir them up as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has outlawed music from the airwaves that seem anarchistic. So, they have to tune into the likes of Radio Rock, a sharp, unifying outlet, based on a tanker in international waters, beyond British jurisdiction.

The story's protagonist happens to be the teenage godson of the Radio Rock unflappable owner (and vessel's captain) Quentin (Nighy, who happened to be behind a microphone in Love, Actually). Carl (Tom Sturridge) comes aboard one night in hopes to cash in on his desires to come of age and find out more about a long-absent father.

Curtis gets his pet project off to a decent start with his introduction of energetic deejays, like Hoffman's risk-prone The Count, as well as mystic royalty in Gavin (Ifans), outre New Zealander Angus (Rhys Darby), and surreptitiously amorous Dave (Nick Frost). The action on and inside the boat has an energetic banter going for it. It's transposed with London's government quarters, landlocked contemptuous minister Dormandy (Branagh) and his assistant (Jack Davenport). The sneering, supercilious official is out to stop Radio Rock's audience from plugging into the free-loving, freewheeling group, which now includes Carl.

Yet, the filmmaking and storytelling loses its inspiration and captivating qualities hinted at early on. On the surface the look and sounds has something going for it, but everything seems to be done in broad, stereotypical stroking.

Though primarily testosterone-fueled, there is a cook (Katherine Parkinson) who happens to be lesbian, and bi-weekly visits from bodacious, lusty ladies. January Jones, who's rising rapidly in the acclaimed small-screen original series "Mad Men" is one of the sex objects, but there's not much to add to the initial ambiance as the story and action ebbs for a while in the midsection before more viscosity through the wacky, finally sentimental lattergoing.

Maybe having double-duty here is too much for Curtis who makes Branagh rather silly and lackluster, as the crusade against the movement doesn't have any viability or vitality going for it. The editing may be an improvement in what comes across the Atlantic, but there's more of a frumpy quality that feels more like an aggregate of sketches with cameos, montages, and pranks. Even a paleness is evident in some of the lensing, as some of the line readings have pungency along with a vibrant soundtrack taking up at least half the running time from rising artists like Dusty Springfield, the Beach Boys, the Supremes, Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens, David Bowie, Smokey Robinson, along with The Who, The Beatles, and Rolling Stones.

Emma Thompson appears briefly as Carl's mother, but isn't given the chance to shine like Frances McDormand did in the highly valued, yet underseen Almost Famous. Rock and roll lives for a while in Pirate Radio as Nighy's admonishing captain and a foul-mouthed, gutsy, hirsute and portly Hoffman have their moments, while Frost is more amusing than expected, like his backup of Simon Pegg in pics like Hot Fuzz. Yet, Sturridge doesn't have the presence he should have in such an unsubtle, busy confection that may resonate in today's world, but still can't manage to stay afloat.

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