Sex, drugs and rock‘n’roll have traditionally been associated with the chord-hammering, fret-shredding gods that saunter onto the stage to culminate an act of awe-inspiring musical perfection.
At Quality 16 and Showcase
But what about the men who sit in the lonesome radio towers, broadcasting those soul-shattering tunes for millions to hear? If rock stars were the spotlight-hogging Don Quixotes of this world, then the radio disc jockies would unquestionably be their trusty Sancho Panzas. But the normally unsung heroes of this tale transcend to god-like status in the comedy “Pirate Radio.”
The film is set in the United Kingdom during the ’60s — when rock‘n’roll, with its then provocative and radical lyrics, was barred from being played over the radio for more than 30 minutes a day. For a group of musical aficionados, this radio ban is unacceptable. These men (and one woman) set sail on the good ship Radio Rock to broadcast the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Who and The Kinks for all of Great Britain to rock out to. As a result, the crew members become instant celebrities. When the British government quickly learns of this pirate radio, it moves swiftly to crush the resistance. All the while, the hands aboard Radio Rock remain one step ahead of the ministry while doing what they do best: playing fucking rock‘n’roll.
The humor is purely British, with a heavy emphasis on sexual overtones, large generational gaps between parents and children, and as usual, satirical pokes at political authority. In particular, the consistent prods at the British government are the best. The feud between Radio Rock and the minister in charge of dismantling their operation plays out much like a Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner episode of “Looney Tunes.” The government creates elaborate schemes to destroy the pirates, but the crew always manages to sidestep the traps, rendering the governing enforcement worse off than before they set the failed trap.
Radio Rock hosts seven DJs, each broadcasting his own show in a manner consistent with his personality. To name a few: the Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Doubt”) is the bold American who continually pushes the boundaries of what is allowed to be played on air; Dave (Nick Frost, “Hot Fuzz”) is the raunchy Brit always looking to sleep with whatever woman comes aboard; and Mysterious Mark (Tom Wisdom, “300”) is the silent midnight DJ who, at the bafflement of everyone else, attracts scores and scores of women without uttering a word.
It’s the interaction of these kaleidoscopic personalities that gives “Pirate Radio” its engrossing driving force. From the harmless jokes they play on each other to the betrayals that threaten to tear them apart, the crew’s experiences aboard the Radio Rock are bittersweet, memorable and ultimately triumphant. Character development is such that it’s easy to instantly love or hate someone, but at the same time, it’s just as easy to identify with everyone.
“Pirate Radio” is a magnificent film that places the limelight on men not normally accustomed to it. But beneath the debauchery and ridiculousness is a story of friendship and steadfast resolution. Each DJ is imperfect by himself (except for maybe Mysterious Mark), but together they make an unstoppable team united under one cause: the love of music.