Radio Rock is a decrepit boat moored in international waters off the coast of England. Its crew of misfits blasts an uninterrupted soundtrack to the swinging sixties back to Blighty, joyously corrupting the ears of the love generation. Curtis plots Radio Rock’s captain Quentin (Nighy) and his merry band of cool cats and pop junkies on a meandering course for musical supremacy, much to the chagrin of stuffy British sensibilities, captured here by Branagh’s borderline fascist, minister Dormandy.
The stellar ensemble of acting talent often feels sadly underused. There’s just not enough time to tell each story. At worst, it clings to cliché – Nighy’s ageing velvet-suited hipstercrat, the Morrison-esque sex god. At best, we’re starved of character development despite the sterling efforts of all involved, such as the trans-Atlantic rivalry between portly American shock jock The Count (Hoffman) and Ifan’s smooth but sleazy superstar disc jockey. The piece mostly chugs along via the coming of age tale of nominal lead Carl (Sturridge). He’s relatively well drawn in an Almost Famous don’t-you-wish-this-was-your-adolescence kind of way, but his vague plotline, which sees him trying to reunite him with his long-lost father is one the film’s most hopelessly underdeveloped arcs. Attempts to pull together so many strands means The Boat That Rocked is adrift in choppy pacing that improves towards the film’s conclusion, but never truly finds a steady course.
Curtis’s script zings with the kind of wit and grace you’d expect from the writer of Four Weddings and Notting Hill, but his direction just can’t keep up. But maybe that doesn’t matter. This is his homage to some of the greatest music ever written, against a backdrop of a bygone Britain. Regular mini-montages of Radio Rock’s everyday listeners across England draw you into a more innocent world, light years away from our grey and cynical post-millennium, mid-recession UK. Sure, the rose-tinted shades are firmly in place. Yes, it’s an often two-dimensional caricature of free love and flower power, but so what. The soundtrack alone – not to mention the overwhelming coolness-factor – means there's a lot to love, actually.