Review in a Hurry: Rock 'n' roll and the high seas make an unlikely but jolly combination in this exuberantly directed film by Love, Actually writer-director Richard Curtis. Wisely, Curtis avoids any deep, thoughtful messages or significant thematic matter—that approach would just sink this ship.
The Bigger Picture: During one of the most pivotal times in music history, the British Broadcasting Company played nary a note of rock 'n' roll over the airwaves. Pirate Radio takes place in 1966, when the only way to hear rock and pop radio was from rogue deejays on ships in the ocean, just outside British jurisdiction.
Curtis' fictional script throws together a merry band of brothers spinning tunes from the North Sea, including American deejay The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), ship captain and station owner Quentin (Bill Nighy) and his aimless but sweet godson Carl (Tom Sturridge). The ship is like one giant frat house; it's the time of their lives, and things may never again be this good.
In fact, they're about to get worse as a sniveling bureaucrat (played by an over-the-top Kenneth Branagh) sets forth with an aggressive plan to shut them down. But the music plays on, and at all the right moments—music supervisor Nick Angel punctuates the action with crackling tunes by the Kinks, the Who and the Stones to name a few.
The rough 'n' ready soundtrack is the most dangerous part of Pirate Radio. Practical jokes, general buffoonery and sexual misadventures abound, and a sentimental "who's your daddy" subplot involving Carl barely registers amidst the guffaws. War? Recession? Unemployment? Forget all that in this buoyant flick.
Still, there's a sense of importance to what these guys do. Scenes of devoted fans across the country enjoying the tunes—nurses, schoolgirls, hipsters—and their reactions to the threatened existence of the radio signal convey the passion music evokes and how vital it is that we have the ability to choose the soundtrack of our lives.
The 180—a Second Opinion: As quick as the laughs come, the humor is occasionally ham-handed and broad. Branagh's cartoonish character, in particular, is too absurd and unrealistic for a movie inspired by historical events.
Sooo many movies coming out. Keep 'em straight with our 2009 Holiday Movie Guide.