Review: The Boat That Rocked

Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, plus a heavy dose of Swinging '60s nostalgia, fuel The Boat That Rocked, Richard Curtis' hymn to the wild days of U.K. pirate radio. More reminiscent of his eccentric TV comedies (The Vicar of Dibley, Mr. Bean) than his bigscreen romancers Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, Curtis' second outing as writer-director throws together a large cast of wackos on a boat off the east coast of Blighty. Pic generally stays afloat on the strength of its characters but sometimes threatens to sink under its overlong running time and vignettish structure.

Heavily promoted retro laffer, which launches April 1 in the U.K., and thereafter Down Under and across Europe, should do OK based on Curtis' name, though it lacks the universal appeal of his first helming outing, Love Actually. Very Brit-specific item is likely to do more modest biz when it sails Stateside Aug. 28.

Though it had been around for a while, British pirate radio -- a direct result of pubcaster BBC's government-sanctioned monopoly on broadcasting -- mushroomed during the mid- '60s following the explosion of Britpop/rock, which the conservative BBC Radio hardly played. Operating from boats outside British territorial waters, pirates beamed a 24/7 diet of popular music to as many as 25 million listeners (half the U.K. population) before the government effectively crushed the pirates with legislation in August 1967. Many DJs migrated to BBC Radio, which gradually bowed to popular pressure, but only six years later was its broadcasting monopoly officially ended.

It's 1966 as the film opens, and the Beeb is still airing less than 45 minutes of pop each day. But on Radio Rock (based on the famous Radio Caroline), which operates from a rusty old fishing trawler in the North Sea, the party is in swing around the clock. On board, upper-class twit Quentin (Bill Nighy) rules a raggedy bunch of dope-smoking, sex-starved DJs who are national idols, in defiance of government minister Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh), who's bent on shutting down the sewer of dirty commercialism and no morals.

Among the vinyl-spinners are the Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a grizzled Yank who wants to be the first person to broadcast the F-word on British radio; tubby Dave (Nick Frost, Hot Fuzz), who fancies himself a ladies' man; seriously spacey Thick Kevin (Tom Brooke); melancholy Irishman Simon (Chris O'Dowd); unloved Kiwi Angus (Rhys Darby, The Flight of the Conchords); silent lothario Mark (Tom Wisdom); and the boat's sole distaffer, Felicity (Katherine Parkinson), a lesbian who cooks.

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