Pirate Radio | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pirate Radio

It's hijinks on the high seas for these rock 'n' roll deejays

In mid-1960s Britain, rock 'n' roll wasn't played on the state-run radio, but instead was beamed from pirate-radio ships offshore. Richard Curtis' ensemble film is a comedic valentine to that past, when radio was staffed by folks who loved music. (In those days, radio done right could carry a whiff of vicarious anarchy.)

His film tracks a few loose months aboard the Radio Rock boat, where the thinnest of subplots involve the threat of a government crackdown and a cute kid losing his virginity. Mostly, we just loll around with the "crazy" disc jockeys, as they play great rock, pop and soul tunes, and revel in various freedoms including sex and drugs. Who wouldn't want to be a rock 'n' roll pirate?!

While there were influential pirate-radio ships, much about Radio Rock -- calmly afloat in a mysteriously balmy part of the North Sea -- feels as historically authentic as a boy band. The last reel is particularly ridiculous plot-wise; it's also where Curtis stops spinning great 45s and ladles on the crappy movie music, making it doubly bad.

But anyone nostalgic for those pre-MTV days when radio still mattered will find the film an entertaining medley of laughs and memories, edged in the bittersweet. (As depicted in the film, I was one of those kids who kept a radio in my bed.)

The big cast means the cabin is packed with your favorite indie actors, all having a ball, preening about in striped trousers and velveteen jackets. It's mostly Brits onboard -- Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifhans, Nick Frost and Emma Thompson -- plus a Yank (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a Kiwi (Rhys Darby, from Conchords). Starts Fri., Nov. 13.

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