'The Boat That Rocked'

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Richard Curtis' new comedy "The Boat That Rocked," about the pirate radio stations that sprang up briefly in the U.K. during the 1960s, is like a long, slow cruise where all the fun is at the exotic ports of call but life on board is pretty dull.

Many great pop songs from that era make up the stops along the way, and whenever an old favorite breezes along, the film draws on its energy. But the film is far too long, and between the tracks, the episodic adventures of a group of disc jockeys broadcasting rock 'n' roll from a rusty old clunker anchored just beyond the three-mile limit from the British Isles is heavy going.

An infectiously nostalgic soundtrack, likable performers — including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy and Rhys Ifans — and a sentimental, upbeat ending will take the pic beyond the boxoffice shallows. It's unlikely, though, to prove as bountiful as such previous Curtis creations as "Love Actually" and "Notting Hill."

The film quickly sets the scene during the mid-'60s, when British rock was exploding but the BBC was contractually bound to produce live music, so pop records barely got any play. Set almost entirely aboard the fictional floating broadcast ship Radio Rock, the comedy is drawn from the frat-boy relationships among the eclectic gang playing the records.

Nighy, as the station's debonair owner, Hoffman as the token boisterous Yank known as the Count and Ifans as a superstar DJ named Gavin provide the film's highlights with typical flair.

Young English actor Tom Sturridge does well as Carl, the owner's godson. Some of the best moments involve arrivals on the ship, including Ifans' and one featuring a cameo by a ravishing-looking Emma Thompson.

There's a bit of a plot involving Carl trying to find out which of those on board is his long-lost father, but mostly it's a series of set pieces involving games sparked by various rivalries. One results in the Count and Gavin climbing aloft to see who chickens out first. Another has Carl falling for a pretty young visitor (Tallulah Riley) who promptly jumps into bed with disc jockey Dave (Nick Frost). Curtis likes the joke so much that he repeats it with another one of the team (Chris O'Dowd) and his sweetheart (January Jones of "Mad Men"). It's lame stuff.

The real pirate radio ships, whose days ended in 1967, were towed away for salvage, but the film avoids that fate — like the best rock songs — with a rousing finish and a pleasing climax.(partialdiff)
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