Film review: The Boat That Rocked

FISHY:  The Boat That Rocked is Richard Curtis' directorial debut, and it shows.
FISHY: The Boat That Rocked is Richard Curtis' directorial debut, and it shows.

Dr Feegood has topped himself. Fear not, fans of light-hearted, lightweight, sweetness and light films; Wellington-born screenwriter Richard Curtis hasn't ended his own life.

That would contradict his  whimsy for flimsy comedy.

Instead, in his directorial debut, Curtis has out-cheesed his own back catalogue. Like a Somali pirate stepping on the gas, Curtis has elevated sentimentality to titanic proportions. May Poseidon have mercy on our souls.

Like shooting fish in a barrel, there are so many flaws in Curtis's new film that it's almost unsporting to take aim and fire. But let's do it anyway. After all, the man has flooded the market with cringe-inducing British hits like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones's Diary and Notting Hill. To make matters worse, the scoundrel is master of making schmaltz enjoyable.

Curtis's talent lies in plucking all the obvious strings to move the masses to tears and laughter. He understands the human desire to be loved, have friends, find acceptance, overcome odds. As co-writer of TV great Blackadder, he gleefully exploited his dark side by exploring the humour in other people's misfortunes. But as his career bores ever deeper into popular culture, he's dispensed with caustic comedy to wrap his arms around, well, love actually.

Not intrinsically a rom- com, The Boat That Rocks is still a love story; primarily, with music, but also the kind that lends itself nicely to the propagation of the species. Curtis's passion is passion, especially between humans, which is where his new film hits rough conditions.

The premise, about a rabble of loveable pirate radio DJs rocking the airwaves from a rusty boat in the North Sea in the 1960s, is great. The enemy closes in but nobody can silence the will of the people, even when Davy Jones beckons.

Like American sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, this isn't a movie about a radio station; it's about a group of people who bond as a family as they strive to stick it to the man (in this case, a very Hitleresque caricature played by Kenneth Branagh). And Curtis piles it on thicker than Thick Kevin. It's a love-in for two- dimensional characters and the audience, who Curtis treats as two-dimensional.

His ensemble cast of misfits are paint-by- numbers quotations of famous people and types. Midnight Mark is clearly Jim Morrison; The Count is Caroline and Radio One DJ, Emperor Rosko (or WKRP's Dr Fever); another nods to the late, great Radio One DJ, John Peel. There's even a lesbian on a boat full of men. Attendant hilarity ensues. And every time a DJ says or does something momentous on air, Curtis cuts to a sequence of Brits crying, dancing or cheering to this merry band of jocks.

It's as sickening as seven-metre swells on the Cook Strait ferry ride. And, at 129 minutes, almost as long.

Although The Boat That Rocks is an insult to the intellect of a sturgeon, New Zealand filmmakers will be kicking themselves for not getting there first with a feature about Radio Hauraki. Others may wish Curtis hadn't got there at all.

The Boat That Rocked
Director: Richard Curtis
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Gemma Arterton, January Jones, Talulah Riley, Rhys Darby
Time: 129 minutes
Rating: M

Sunday Star Times