Directed by Richard Curtis
Starring – Tom Sturridge, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Talulah Riley
So, pretty much everything you hear on the trailer voice over here is bunk:
That said, this still is a pretty good flick. Hoffman’s character was not the person who started this station. He was not the most popular DJ of all time. He didn’t save rock-n-roll (everyone knows that Ken did that). Even so, the movie is pretty good.
Directed by Richard Curtis, who wrote such classics as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Briget Jones’s Diary (and its sequel) and Love, Actually (which he also co-directed), this movie plays fast and loose with the Pirate Radio era of British Rock. The main rebellion about this period was the fact that these folks sold advertising and played a bit cooler on the air. There was some consternation about this and eventually there was a law passed to protect British interests, it was by no means a revolution. It was more of a conscious money-making effort.
Now, on to the movie. Tom Sturridge plays young Carl, who is brought aboard the pirate radio ship called Radio Rock, sent there by his mother after being expelled from school. He has performed all sorts of mischief and done more than a couple of types of drugs, but somehow manages to still be a fresh-faced virgin. How is this possible? Because the script requires it for his future interactions with women, of course. His rock-n-roll internship is served muddling with the likes of Dr. Dave (a typically brilliant Nick Frost), The Count ( typical Hoffman), “Simple” Simon Swafford (a charming Chris O’Dowd), Smooth Bob (an excellently spaced-out Ralph Brown) and, eventually “King of the Airwaves” Gavin Kavanagh (an elegantly wasted Rhys Ifans). Throw in a bunch of women brought in a few at a time, and an atypically tight Branagh playing a government minister and you have less a meditation on rescuing rock in England of the 60’s and more a Smokey and the Bandit meets Revenge of the Nerds.
The key here is performances. Sturridge is a star waiting to happen. His fresh face turns what
would have been a stale series of events (a “Vietnam War” game of chicken between The Count and Kavanagh, really?) into a wonderful new experience. Sturridge was actually the original lead in the movie, Jumper,but was taken out after production started for someone (barely) more recognizable (Hayden Christen). One wonders how much better the movie could have been with his acting chops. I look forward to seeing what Sturridge does in the future.
Bill Nighy is typically brilliant as Carl’s godfather and Radio Rock’s captain, Quentin. He has had so many memorable roles in Curtis films (as well as the incredible, Still Crazy, that it is a surprise he has not been knighted). Emma Thompson makes an indelible mark on the film in less than 5 minutes of screen time, and Branagh’s interactions with his minion Twitt (JAck Davenport) are as well-played as Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane and his son in Bandit.
This is a movie you could live without, to be sure. But there is the element of charm you have come to expect from Richard Curtis present here. This film is forgettably enjoyable, but enjoyable nonetheless. If you want a more accurate picture of the time, try the album The Who Sell Out.
(***1/2 out of *****)