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Pirate Radio


By Bret McCabe | Posted 11/11/2009

New Zealand director Richard Curtis figured out how to make an American frat comedy set in the United Kingdom. There's Carl (Tom Sturridge), a fresh-faced young newbie who finds himself dropped into the company of inappropriate older role models who give him life lessons in shagging--Carl, naturally, needs to be deflowered--and appreciating righteous tunes. This motley crew includes portly ladies man Dave (Nick Frost), "Mr. Nice Guy" Simon (Chris O'Dowd), walking punchline Thick Kevin (Tom Brooke), freaky Angus (Rhys Darby), nebbish News John (Will Adamsdale), a token black guy, supreme cool guy Gavin (Rhys Ifans), a no-BS American called the Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and the ringleader of this circus, Quentin (Bill Nighy). There's an evil rod-up-his-bum white man in power, government official Sir Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh), who lives to put an end to the young malcontents' disreputable tomfoolery, and his right-hand strong-arm is a younger starched shirt with the unfortunate name Twatt (Jack Davenport). The madcap adventures, all set to nonstop '60s rock/pop, include some encounters with skirts--Elenore (January Jones), Desiree (Gemma Arterton), Marianne (Talulah Riley), and the brief appearance of an older woman (Emma Thompson, gamely getting to '60s sexpot herself up)--some tough lessons in love, outfoxing the authorities, ridiculous displays of manly folly, a poop anecdote, and an 11th-hour close call that threatens to make everything go to pot. That's right: Pirate Radio is Animal House on a boat.

And it's better to veg out and try to enjoy Radio's spoon-fed jokes than make any effort to think during its brisk 135 minutes, otherwise you'll feel your brain cells starving for stimulation. Inspired in part by the actual seafaring pirate radio stations that broadcast rock 'n' roll to the island in the late 1960s because the landlocked state-sanctioned stations wouldn't--don't be too surprised: America's first real "rock" station was St. Louis' KSHE-FM, which adopted the format in 1967--Radio is a by-the-numbers comedy held up entirely by its soundtrack and game cast members, who do the best they can with the cliché that the spirit of rock 'n' roll is a rebellion against The Man. (Curtis' previous Love Actually has more edge, if that gives you any indication of Radio's tired verve.) It's not awful, merely perfunctory, brainless, and silly.

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