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The Boat That Rocked

The Boat That Rocked

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

RICHARD Curtis remains one of the most successful writer-directors in British film following hits such as Four Weddings & A Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually. With The Boat That Rocked he looks set to repeat the trick but his films are increasingly offering diminishing returns.

The main problem with his latest is that while it’s full of crowd-pleasing moments and characters, it lacks any kind of substance or direction.

Described as an ensemble comedy where the romance is between the young people of the ’60’s and the pop music that was played on pirate radio ships, it fails to really tap into what made the pirate DJs of the era, and what they stood for, so important.

And there’s no sense of the difficulty of what it took to continue broadcasting, or the context of the era in which it was set.

Rather, Curtis has created a good-time movie that’s horrendously self-indulgent, way too long (it runs over two hours) and which also feels fairly rudderless in terms of direction. It also takes some obvious liberties with historical fact.

The plot, as such, concerns the comings and goings – mostly sexual – of a ship full of DJs on board the vessel Radio Rock. Included among the line-up is newcomer Carl (Tom Sturridge), who has been sent on board as a rite-of-passage by his mother, and Simon (Chris O’Dowd), a love-struck DJ who is set to get married to the unlikely woman of his dreams (January Jones).

There’s also American DJ The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who doesn’t take kindly to the sudden return of DJ legend Gavin (Rhys Ifans), sex God Dave (Nick Frost), who has an unlikely way with women, and Quentin (Bill Nighy), the owner of the boat who attempts to keep everyone and everything afloat.

Trying to stop them from dry land, meanwhile, are government representatives Minister Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) and his assistant Twatt (Jack Davenport).

On the plus side, The Boat That Rocked does just about stay afloat by virtue of its appealing cast and some humourous situations. A rocking soundtrack also helps, which does capture the best that the era had to offer (featuring everyone from The Kinks and The Who to Hendrix and The Hollies).

But Curtis wants to have his cake and eat it and his film lacks any kind of proper structure, preferring instead to just hang out for over two hours and see what happens.

Hence, many of his key cast members are wasted, while there’s even a tendency to over-milk the jokes. Audiences may well lose track of the amount of times Branagh’s one-dimensional government stooge attempts to gain laughs from the name of his assistant.

A Titanic-style ending almost sinks the whole enterprise, too, while providing Curtis with a similarly gushing finale to the sentimental overload that brought down Love Actually. He just can’t help but manipulate your emotions to ruthless effect.

The Boat That Rocks is therefore a disappointing waste of some great British talent that may bring some fleeting cheer to audiences seeking respite from the credit crunch uncertainty, but which ultimately finds itself all at sea in some very choppy waters. Approach with caution.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 10mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: September 7, 2009