There’s a good news/bad news scene in Richard Curtis’ second writing-directing gig that sums Boat up. Without giving too much away, the good news involves death, so the bad news can’t be good.
Now, the ‘good’ news about the Love Actually fella’s latest is that it’s a characteristically quirky, quaint, quintessentially British cuddle-com, albeit low on unrequited romance and Hugh Grant. The bad news? Go figure…
Here, Curtis’ crew populate a ’60s pirate station broadcast from a North Sea boat. Rock is all around on Radio Rock, as are sex, drugs and larger-than-life rascals. The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is Curtis’ token hands-across-the-ocean gesture, mildly modelled on Emperor Rosko.
Dave (Nick Frost) is a tubby ball of lewdery. Ship’s captain is cravat-man Quentin, Bill Nighy’s latest elegantly raddled rocker. Rhys Ifans is Gavin the hell-raising DJ. Counter-casting? Not a bit: a “Curtis’ greatest Britcom hits” package deal is what we get, complete with a wedding, swearing and stiff Brit dancing.
In fairness, on these terms, Nighy gives good bone-droll value and the pinched “cracker thing” routine at Kenneth Branagh’s dowdy minister’s family Christmas is dryly played. But, beyond predictability, a fundamental lack of plot thrust punctures Boat’s hull.
The Dickensian attempts of Branagh’s Dormandy to outlaw pirate radio is one meagre thread; elsewhere, the reason why 18-year-old Carl’s (Tom Sturridge) mum fobs him off on Radio Rock adds only a slender plot spin. What’s left is all muddle and no melody.
Naughty nudge-wink Carry On-ish innuendos and sketch-format incidents dominate: heartbreaks, conflicts and seductions play merely as set-ups for set-pieces, generally climaxing with group celebrations that register little besides self-satisfaction. Granted, an incident-driven, ensemble-scale radio comedy could’ve been comic gold. But Curtis’ scrappy scripting falls between rushed mini-arcs and a shortfall of overall direction to slow-sinking effect. The bad news? It’s too long.
Curtis hangs situation and character comedy on a homage to rock’n’roll. That would be fine if it were funny, but auto-pilot Curtis prevails.