Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Movie Review: Pirate Goats Who Stare at the Radio

The theme of this movie (known in the U.K. as "Radiomen Who Pirate Goats") is subversion against a tyrannical government, and that's something I can definitely get behind. Ultimately, though, it fails to deliver anything beyond an ungainly display of Sixties counterculture nostalgia.

The premise is that Puritanical British government-controlled radio refuses to play more than a few nanoseconds of rock-and-roll per day, and so the stimulation-starved populace listens to so-called "pirate" radio broadcast from ships anchored in international waters. Unable to prevent the broadcasts by legal means, the British government eventually enlists the help of a secret U.S. Army program in which common soldiers have been trained in psychic combat.

The pirate radio ship is populated by central casting Sixties-ites, who are interested in nothing other than sex, drugs and, obviously, rock and roll. The psychic warriors turn out to be warriors for peace, specializing not in fighting the enemy but in finding lost people or objects, gathering information, and spiking their regular-Army counterparts' breakfast with LSD. Taken together, these characters prove more adept at spouting slogans like "rock and roll will never die" and "give peace a chance" than at generating any audience sympathy.

That sympathy would never be tested anyway, though, given the lack of any real tension in the film. There are a few scattered tense bits, to be sure, such as when a rogue violent psychic threatens his commander with a gun, or when the pirate ship is involved in an accident and sinks. But you know nothing actually bad will happen, because anything bad happening as a result of the characters' irresponsibility and moral failures might puncture the film's Utopian vision. Technically, "Pirate Goats" should be styled a "comedy." The only problem with that designation is its dearth of laugh-inducing moments.

Rumor has it that this movie was once two separate films, one focusing on the "Pirate Radio" aspects and an entirely separate one in which goats play a central role (in the final version, the goats only enter the picture when the psychics, switching sides, help the pirates escape the authorities by mentally cloaking them as the little cloven-hoofed beasts). The fractured plot lines of the resulting movie expose its dual roots, but thematically the admixture is seamless.

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