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The Boat That Rocked

Pirate Radio

Please, Poseidon, let them all drown

dir: Richard Curtis


It’s getting to the stage where hearing that Richard Curtis, the genius behind such pop cultural fodder as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and the diabolical Love, Actually, which actually opens and closes with long montages of people hugging. Hugging, honest to fucking gods…

No, I haven’t forgotten what other stuff Richard Curtis was involved with back in the day, like actually funny stuff, like the various Blackadders and maybe even the Vicar of Dibley. But that was mostly as a writer, as a writer of gags. Humorous asides and witty banter. Funny, mildly amusing stuff.

Then he wisely, from the perspective of making more money, started directing the monstrosities he was writing the scripts for on numerous post-it notes while drunk out of his skull. And thus a directorial legend was born.

Now he inflicts these awful goddamn flicks on us which have too many characters, most of which are little different from each other, with sequences that connect little to the ones preceding and following, and which exude an overall stench of desperation that never hides the fact that he doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing, but hopes the editing, popular songs and cheeky swearing can hide the fact.

The Boat that Rocked, or Pirate Radio as it was briefly known when it was released in the States, is another in a long line of pointless Richard Curtis vehicles that’s nowhere near as funny or coherent as Richard Curtis thinks it is, or as funny or as coherent as Richard Curtis thinks Richard Curtis is.

The events portrayed in this banal film bear barely any relation to anything that happened at some point in Britain in the 1960s, but that would hardly matter if this flick was as winning and charming as it thinks it is. I don’t think it sucks because the history of the event isn’t well represented: I think it sucks because it goddamn well sucks dog’s balls.

A bunch of guys on a boat. Sounds pretty gay, doesn’t it? Well, what if I tell you that these crazy, kooky chaps are all radio DJs broadcasting illegally on a ship anchored on the North Sea?

Wow, these guys must be, like, heroes or something, eh? Led by the erstwhile station owner Quentin (Bill Nighy), who swans around in a cravat for no reason, who’s on the ship itself for no reason, they broadcast the revolutionary rock and roll that the British Government wants to prevent the British public from ever hearing. The BBC doesn’t play that shit; all it plays is deathly audio documentaries about 15th century agrarian policies in Guatemala and coded secrets to the Soviets. Oh, and doubtless hours of dull classical music. How dreary!

No, only one radio-boat-station, well, amongst the hundreds of others, being Radio Rock, could play all those rebellious songs then that today are played daily on those awful golden oldie stations. You know the ones, they play exactly the same songs at the same time every day; monstrosities that are stealing pieces of people’s souls without the listeners ever realising it.

So these cocksuckers can act like revolutionaries just by spinning these tunes that have become painful clichés to us today. On top of that, they can act all kooky and run around the ship as if they’re The Monkees: a reference I imagine means nothing to anyone under the age of 35. Suffice to say, these painful clichés playing clichés (played, in some instances, by some reasonably funny actors like Nick Frost, Rhys Darby and that’s just about it) do and say almost nothing you couldn’t predict with the sound off. In fact try it out, because I guarantee your version will be funnier even if it is nothing more than a long sequence of stoned of hypercaffeinated grunts. Try it at your leisure!

Philip Seymour Hoffman is also in it, pretending like he’s down with the kids and pretending like working with him isn’t painful. He has some dull reason to be on the ship, just like everyone else, in that there is some historical analogue to him in some version of this history that possibly matters to someone. As in, an American DJ on British pirate radio back in the 60s. How remarkable! Now that’s a story worth telling.

As these shmucks play their shmucky songs, all of Britain clusters around the radio, living and dying to the predictable sounds coming out of their speakers. Considering how much time is spent showing this occurring, which is Curtis’s way of redoing the whole ‘hugging’ thing for our benefit this time, it is never convincing as a statement about the whole of Britain being united behind these plucky anti-government individualists.

The government, the evil villainous and wowserish forces aligned against the idiots on the boat, hate Radio Rock because people enjoy their music too much, and presumably it leads to expectations about enjoyable lives that the government doesn’t want the public to entertain. So in order to re-crush the spirits of Britons, they must destroy, no, they must DESTROY them!

What follows, interspersed with the shipboard antics, are awkward and irritating scenes on land as Member of Parliament Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Brannagh with a Hitler moustache, I kid you not) plots and plans with his underlings to outlaw Radio Rock, despite the inconvenient fact that they’re already outlaws by dint of illegally broadcasting, the problem being that they’re broadcasting from far enough away that they’re not legally liable. From thence the problem becomes one of degree, in that Sir Alistair wants to make it more illegal. Illegaller? Illegallest?

There is much fuming, fulmination and gnashing of teeth. Sir Alistair could not be more of a cartoon villain if he were Yosemite Sam, complete with the knee-length moustache, perpetually firing six shooters and dialogue delivered only at a screamed pitch of voice. For those, again, not old enough to know who the fuck Yosemite Sam is, um, he’s the cinematic equivalent of Squidward or Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants. Is that better? Is that more comtempo? Do the ‘kids’ even use ‘contempo’ as shorthand any more? It’s probably just contracted to ‘co’, what with this being the age of texting and abbreviation, with people being so busy and all.

I haven’t even mentioned that this film, unlikely as it might seem, interspersed within the desperately unfunny set-ups, has something of a plot, and something of an ‘in’ for the audience. A boy, a stupid boy at that, is plonked onto the ship at film’s beginning, because his mother wants to punish him for being kicked out of boarding school due to smoking. This bland gobshite named Carl (Tom Sturridge) does nothing of any importance or relevance for the entire flick, not only from the perspective of the audience, as in an audience asking itself why it should care about his ‘adventures’ amongst these radio retards, but from the perspective of the people on the ship as well.

Honestly, it’s a stupid thing to get hung up on, but I couldn’t figure out why they’d let him be on the ship since he doesn’t do a single fucking thing except take up space and act all awkward like he’s been studying at the Hugh Grant Academy for Awkward Actors. Must have graduated with flying colours, I tell you what.

His presence on the ship only really makes sense if the crew is handing him around like the communal rentboy that he looks like. Of course, the flick goes to major pains to paint the whole endeavour as dripping in heterosexual testosterone, what with women being brought on board every other weekend for the crew to work out all their tensions and convince themselves that spending all their lives around other men isn’t the slightest bit gay.

In what could have been a funny sequence, a girl brought onto the ship almost expressly for the purpose of allowing Carl to lose his virginity instead has sex with one of the DJs, being Dave (Nick Frost).

Now, I’m sure there are women who have willingly had sex with Nick Frost. I hope he has a happy and loving relationship with whatever lucky ladies he can. The thing is, though, if you’re about to have sex with a teenage girl, and she instead has sex with the snaggletoothed behemoth Nick Frost, who you may remember from such sidekick roles in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, then you really know that you’re fucked, just not in the good way.

They essentially repeat the same dynamic later on when one of the crew spontaneously gets married to some American girl (played by January Jones, who’s probably best known as Don Draper’s wife Betty from Mad Men), only to find out that she has other plans, as in, plans with the genitals of another crew member.

This stuff sounds like it means something, could mean anything, but really it amounts to nothing. None of the relationships except the obviously more co-dependent gay ones seem even vaguely real, and it looks less like a crew of DJs and more like a bunch of actors crammed into a space pretending there’s some greater purpose to their being there than just fucking around. There’s no feeling of drama or reality throughout the entire thing, up til and including an ending which seems like it’s fraught with peril, in a Saving Private Titanic kind of way.

But when you realise that, of course, every person in Britain will be able to sail up the Thames and on to the North Sea within a few minutes in order to save our gay pirate heroes, then there’s really no tension to be had. And, in the end, you’ll finally realise that Richard Curtis has stolen yet another two hours from your life without even having the decency to give you a reach-around.

Thanks a lot, you shameful mediocrity. Thanks a fucking lot.

4 times an iceberg should have killed them all in the first five minutes out of 10

“We have their testicles in our hands, Twatt, and it feels good” – actual dialogue, no shit, The Boat That Rocked.