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Pirate Radio (Blu-ray Review)

12 Apr, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 4/13/10
Box Office $8 million
$29.98 DVD; $36.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for language, and some sexual content including brief nudity.
Stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh.

Occasionally, a foolproof concept runs into some crafty fool, or at least falls prey to foolish execution. Despite rooting interest going into it, Love Actually writer-director Writer-director Richard Curtis’ fictional extrapolation of British pop history never quite mines potential that could have been the foundation for a classic. 

And yet, if you love rock and roll, there’s no way you should fail to check out this rendering of how official BBC blue-noses (their behinds were on the red side) tried to pretend the Beatles, Stones, the Who (and probably even benign Billy J. Kramer) didn’t exist. You just know they didn’t like Julie Christie’s miniskirts, either,

Some have said this portrayal plays a little fast-and-loose with history. But as incredible as it seems, the BBC was trying to ignore rock as much as much as it could as late as 1966, which was two long years after the Beatles took America by storm on Ed Sullivan’s show. Even beyond its employment as Dr. Strangelove’s musical capper, I love Vera Lynn’s World War II paean We’ll Meet Again as much as the next nostalgist … but, really.

What follows is a story about a band of pirate DJs who broadcast contraband tunes to the Brit-teen populace from a ship just legally enough off the shoreline – something akin to the grand old days when boatman/politico William F. Buckley used to smoke pot from just far out enough in the drink to avoid prosecution.

Bill Nighy plays the semi-seedy entrepreneur who pulls the purse strings of a motley crew of employees who enjoyed a brief heyday long before the emergence of Motley Crue. For a movie that runs under two hours, there are just too many narrative threads, and the result comes to resemble the tackle box of someone on the boat who may want to lay down a fishing line.

Yet there at least three reasons to give a look. One is Philip Seymour Hoffman as an imported American DJ; at this stage of his career, he’s worth indulging in anything he elects to do, especially in a role where he can obviously have some fun. Another is the movie’s biggest laugh-getter, Kenneth Branagh as a pasty BBC prig who basically has no motivation in life beyond busting these malcontents. (Can it really have only been two decades since Branagh did his bit for traditional glory in his vital screen take on Henry V?)

The third reason is a surprise completely out of left field: a brief role (yet dominant when it’s a factor) for January Jones as one of the radio team’s ill-cast romantic squeeze, who shows up to visit and immediately falls for someone else. The price we have to pay for Jones being such an essential contributor to “Mad Men” is being robbed at seeing her on the big screen. Her role here will never replace the time-machine fantasy of seeing her play one of Hitchcock’s ice blondes in the 1950s or ’60s (she could have been a drop-dead Marnie, right?). But here she’s a booster shot in a movie that can use one.

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