Wednesday, August 15, 2012

3 shrt pgrphs: Pirate Radio (aka The Boat That Rocked)

2009, Richard Curtis -- netflix

I remember thinking -- this was back in '09 when the trailers hit -- that this film looked weak, a barely-comedic tale about pirate radio stations set up on anchored ships off the British coastline in the '60's.  How do you really make a movie out of that?  It's barely a story.  I mean, there is a little more to it than that, as in the 60's at the height of the British rock-and-roll invasion, British radio had no popular music stations, and the new music was restricted to only a few hours of broadcast in any given week, and these pirate stations were able to operate outside the government's control in international waters, gaining dramatic popularity over their government-run counterparts, thus prompting the stiff-upper-lippers to find some means of shutting them down.  And that's it.  When I said there was a little more to it, well, that was it.

This film is not in any way biographical.  In some respects it's a farce, particularly in the purely ridiculous government bureaucrats whose task it was to rid the airwaves of this polluting music and discus jockeys.  Kenneth Branagh is the head cheese -- staunchly named Sir Alistaire Dormandy --  and plays the role as if he studied nothing but early John Cleese stuck-up stickybeats in preparation for the role.  His accomplice is Coupling's Jack Davenport, who completely unselfconsciously goes by the name Twatt.  That's the level of humour the film aims for.  The rest of the film, when not dealing with the cartoonish inner workings of the government, takes place aboard one of the many off-shore floating radio stations, and suffers from any uniform perspective or focal viewpoint.  At first, we're introduced to the crew of the ship and cast of on-air personalities by way of an 18-year-old whose mother thought it would keep him out of trouble -- and oh ho boy, was that the wrong move? You bet it was -- but he's not the central character.  This film has none.  It tries to put Philip Seymour Hoffman, the station's top DJ ("the Count") at the center, but he's on screen for maybe 1/6th of the film.  Instead the large ensemble, including some great talents like Chris O'Dowd, Katherine Parkinson (both from the IT Crowd), Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Rhys Darby (from Flight of the Conchords), and Nick Frost is cycled through in a series of vignettes that have no greater impact or importance on the film at large.  It's truly like Curtis had created a WKRP in Cincinnati-style sit-com and consolidated a whole season's worth of episodes into a fitfully overlong two-hour movie.

The film, because of its great cast (and in spite of yet another loathsome performance from January Jones), has some charm, but it's a simple charm that outstays its welcome before the end of its tale.  It's Time-Life Hits of the '60's soundtrack is steeped in nostalgia but the songs are so ubiquitous that they have about as much impact as the limp humour the film tries to hit us with.  The bureaucrats win the battle in the end, but obviously not the war, and the film's coda is dripping with so much undeserved and overconfident meaning that it's spoils even what meager enjoyment there is to get out of the movie.  It's not terrible, but there's absolutely no point to it all, and it's really not worth the time.