Monday, November 16, 2009
Pirate Radio....errr....The Boat That Rocked....errr.....Whatever
In The Boat That Rocked (hereby known by its American title Pirate Radio, don't get me started on that), a rogue group of radio DJs takes to the high seas to broadcast Rock and Roll to the UK in the 1960's, as it was illegal to do so on land. While it is said to be based on a true story, the creative liberties that Director Richard Curtis (Love Actually) takes with the story make it a far cry from a faithful retelling. Personally, I don't particularly care if the story is true or not, so long as it keeps me entertained. That is where the seas get a bit choppy.
Let's start with the good. The cast Curtis has assembled here is fantastic and includes Kenneth Branagh, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy and that guy from Shaun of the Dead (not Shaun) to name a few. They do well with what they are given, Branagh and Nighy especially. The soundtrack is great as well, using tracks from The Who, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones to great effect throughout the film, mostly in the form of montages. The real problem with this little movie stems from it's story.
I had read that Curtis was forced to trim 20 minutes off the film and slap a "Based on a True Story" sticker on the poster to make the story more appealing for American audiences. I'm here to tell you that he shouldn't have stopped at 20 minutes. At just a hair over 2 hours, the film feels painstakingly long. It takes less than half an hour for the major characters to be introduced and for the conflicts to be established, leaving the remaining 90 minutes to be spent chronicling women that are lured upon the boat and assorted displays of machismo by the DJs. Some of theses scenes work and elicit a chuckle, but none of them add to the overarching story in any way, shape or form. Comic relief is well and good, but when the film dances between music montages, boat parties and the stoic Branagh on the mainland over and over again, it grows stale quickly.
Ensemble pieces like this work best when everyone involved brings something unique to the table, otherwise none of the characters feel fully realized. While it's clear that Curtis attempts to do this, (one guy can't swim, another guy is dumb, etc) they all feel derivative and forgettable. With so many characters to satisfy there is also the risk of trying TOO hard, getting the story convoluted in a slew of sub-plots that distract from the real story. Also contained within this Good vs Evil tale is a coming-of-age story for a boy who never knew his father (Gee, I wonder if he'll find him), a tug-of-war between the two head DJ's (culminating in a lame climbing contest) and of course roughly 93 love stories. Curtis diligently skips back to the main conflict every few minutes, but these transitions feel more and more jarring as the other subplots attempt to take root.
This film, like the ship, has a lot of things going for it from afar: a great cast, an intriguing story, and a bitching soundtrack. Sadly, it takes on water from the start and even the capable hands of Curtis cannot keep her afloat. The only solution to a sinking ship is to ditch the dead weight and man the lifeboats. Instead, Curtis chooses to go down with the ship.