Pirate Radio, set during the swinging ’60s of pop music when giants like the Kinks and the Who roamed the earth, was called The Boat That Rocked in its original U.K. release. Brits of a certain boomer age will remember Radio Caroline and other renegade stations broadcasting rock & roll 24/7 from ships just outside the jurisdiction of a British government that still limited BBC airtime for such noise to two hours a week.
The export title Pirate Radio, with its hint of Capt. Jack Sparrow, doesn’t mean much in this nostalgic, episodic ensemble comedy from writer-director Richard Curtis (Love Actually): For all the supposed anarchy aboard the creaky vessel that broadcasts the fictional Radio Rock, there’s something very old-school frat-house about the shipmates — U.K. blokes all of them, except for Philip Seymour Hoffman as the chunky, furry American deejay who calls himself the Count, and a lone, minor woman (Katherine Parkinson), whose self-announced distinguishing characteristic is that she’s a lesbian. This movie is like that — each player is given a cute trait (Bill Nighy is the posh, swinging shipowner, Rhys Ifans is the Count’s preening deejay competitor, etc.) and then shuffled through a string of bawdy escapades. (It’s a shock to see Mad Men’s January Jones as a sunny, bosomy groupie who boards the boat.)
Pirate Radio is, in the end, about as rock-revolutionary as a tea break. But the choppy production floats on a great soundtrack (the real pirates are the Rolling Stones) and is buoyed by an inviting cast, including Kenneth Branagh as a British-government priss hell-bent on shutting down the infernal radio station. It’s only rock & roll, but he doesn’t like it. B-