Heart of rock 'n' roll still beats in 'Radio'
Richard Curtis makes romantic, sentimental and overlong comedies filled to the rafters with friends as cast-members. He's a British Judd Apatow - indulgent, substituting sweetness for edge, charm for shock value.
His latest, "Pirate Radio," is as jolly, jaunty and sappy as "Love Actually." It was cut by over half an hour for American release and still plays long. But thanks to that fairy-dusting of Curtis charm, I wouldn't cut a frame of it. It skips by like a much-loved old LP.
It's about the heyday of offshore "pirate radio" stations - broadcasting from old merchant ships to a Britain dying to hear the Golden Age of British pop but denied it by the staid BBC.
Curtis ("Blackadder," "Four Weddings and a Funeral") fills the good ship Radio Rock with his usual dizzy cast of castaways - the owner-operator is the dapper and vulpine Quentin (Bill Nighy, naturally). The star DJ is a Yank, The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who is only too happy to be the first to say the F-word on British airwaves.
Then there's Midnight Mark, a Jim Morrison wannabe (Tom Wisdom), Bob the Dawn Treader, Thick Kevin and Big Bad Dave (hilarious Nick Frost). The return of the legendary Gorgeous Gavin (Rhys Ifans, the perfect pop peacock) creates friction as he steals The Count's thunder and another DJ's woman.
It's 1966, and they're all stuck on a rusty red hulk in the North Sea, where they live, sleep, drink and kick out the jams. Young and virginal Carl (Tom Sturridge) joins up after being kicked out of school. "Virginal" drives his shipmates mad as they scheme of ways to "fix" that.
Also scheming is Sir Alistair (Kenneth Branagh), an absurdly priggish government minister who fumes about ways to "shut that filth off."
Curtis runs women to and from the ship - giving sexy scenes to Gemma Arterton and Emma Thompson. January Jones of "Mad Men" plays a woman who marries a DJ, and the pop-loving/wedding-loving Curtis treats us to the DJs serenading the lovely Elenore with the (1968) pop song of the same name - "You're my pride and joy, et cetera!"
He shot much of the movie -DJs seducing the microphone, legions of Brits of every description panting at their every word - with a handheld camera, giving the film a jittery, pop energy.
The young lead is bland, scenes and characters seem invented just to justify using a song and the whole feels as chaotic and unfinished as the 1960s. But something - the music, the nostalgia, the anarchy - gives "Pirate Radio" a little slovenly heart.
I know it's only rock 'n' roll. But I like it.
Three and a half stars
STARRING: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Emma Thompson, January Jones, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh
RATED: R for language, and some sexual content including brief nudity
RUNNING TIME: 1 hour, 52 minutes