"Pirate Radio," which should be played loud because of its classic soundtrack, is the fantasy that sings in the forever-adolescent hearts of music-loving babyboomers everywhere. In fact, Great Britain shut down illegal and offshore rock and roll stations in 1967 after a pirate radio tycoon shot another one to death in an argument over a transmitter. In the movie, the station proprietors are heroes, while poor Kenneth Branagh is cast as a Hitlerian, life-hating British minister who enlists a subordinate named Twatt to shut down seaborne Radio Rock by any means necessary. That's the way writer-director Richard Curtis ("Love Actually," "The Girl in the Cafe") thinks we prefer to think it happened back in the day. "Governments loathe people being free," says lovable posh tosser Bill Nighy as Quentin, the manager of Radio Rock. Right on!
The basic contours of the story are accurate enough. Since the government-run BBC wouldn't play enough rock and roll to satisfy the public, the pirate stations, including the floating ones, took up the slack. The best moments in "Pirate Radio" show everyday Brits enjoying Radio Rock's music and on-air hi jinks -- kids listening to radios under their pillows, nurses in hospitals, even Herr Branagh's secretary. The station's misfit DJs are, of course, irresistible to beautiful women, who arrive by the boatload once a week. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, playing an outlaw of music and love called "the Count" with his usual brilliance, is seen staggering up the ladder to his cabin with twin groupies, asking permission to call them by the same name to avoid overtaxing himself.
A 19-year-old intern (I guess; he never actually does any work) named Carl (Tom Sturridge) is doubly the victim of the film's misogynistic view. His socialite mother had never bothered to tell him who his father is, while his girlfriend can't resist sleeping with one of the sex god DJs. Oh, yeah, and an American blonde seduces and marries one DJ to get onto the ship to sleep with another one. Silly birds, what are you going to do? Meanwhile, when Branagh's black-clad stormtroopers finally come for them on black launches, the guys reek principle and courage. A stirring ending doesn't rescue this self-righteous, testosterone-addled, great-sounding mess.