Directed by Richard Curtis
Curtis allows the viewer into this world through the eyes “Young Carl,” played by Tom Sturridge, sent to spend some time on the ship with its godfather, the ship’s captain Quentin, and he’s immediately taken under the wing of his motley crew of DJs who turn every day into “WKRP at Sea.” At the same time as Carl is learning the ropes on the ship, a British minister played by Kenneth Branagh is trying to take the pirate rock radio station off the air by any means possible. Otherwise, the film consists of a number of vignettes mostly revolving around Carl, but often drifting to some of the other characters.
It’s clear that Curtis has a great love for the pirate rock stations of his youth, but this is his glamorized fantasy version of what must have taken place on those boats with lots of wacky and quirky characters bonding over music and alcohol with little semblance of reality. The station’s top DJ is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s “The Count,” that is until Rhys Ifans’ super-cool veteran Gavin returns to the ship causing friction and a not-so-friendly rivalry with the Count. Nick Frost’s sex-crazed Dr. Dave plays a large part in Carl’s growth, first trying to deflower him with his girlfriend, the super-sexy Gemma Arterton–one of the funnier scenes in the movie–then later cockblocking the young man just as he’s about to get lucky with Quentin’s niece Marianne, played by up ‘n’ comer Talulah Riley. It’s a strange dichotomy for the character to seemingly be trying to help the boy one moment than causing him such turmoil the next, but maybe that’s meant to be a part of that whole free love thing of the ’60s. (There’s actually a creepy almost pederast nature to the character later as he’s lovingly embraced by underage schoolgirls later in the movie.) There’s also the ship’s poor schmuck Simon who gets his own subplot when he marries his sweetheart, played by January Jones, and other featured characters include a less-defined New Zealand DJ played by Rhys Darby and the aptly named Thick Kevin, played by Tom Brooke.
Clearly, Curtis has assembled a fun ensemble cast, but there are just way too many characters and subplots for the movie to have any focus, especially with most of the characters acting as comic relief. (Apparently, the British edit of the movie was even longer!) Halfway through the movie we’re introduced to the long-bearded late night DJ named Bob, completely unaware that he will play a pivotal role in Carl’s story, but some of the other characters are even less relevant so it’s never clear why they even have screen time.
Even so, the entire movie is relatively sweet and cheery, a nice change from the cynical, snarky nature of a lot of modern British comedy, but there never really seems to be much conflict except for the danger of being shut down by the government, which mainly involves Branagh and Jack Davenport complaining about the radio DJ’s exploits. Just when you think nothing is going to happen with that, the ship runs afoul of the weather while trying to escape from the authorities, ending with a scaled-down “Titanic” set piece that one knows will turn out fine since we can’t imagine Curtis would ever allow the tone to get too dark.
Working Title’s resident music supervisor Nick Angel is put through his paces trying to clear all the ’60s rock classics that makes for a fun soundtrack. One thing Curtis does that gets tiring to the point of annoyance are all the montages that cut to various people listening to the station and reacting to what is happening, either laughing at The Count’s antics or dancing to whatever music is being played. As if there wasn’t enough light and frilly fare throughout, Curtis ends the movie with a big dancer number, which would have been fine if he had a cast with any sort of grace or dance moves. Trying to pull off something like this on a boat is just plain awkward.
The Bottom Line: