The backdrop of an impending new millennium can’t jump start Pirates’ creative juices
(This review is part of our coverage of the 2022 South by Southwest Festival)
New Year’s Eve is always a spectacular holiday. How could it not be? It’s the time of the year for smooching and drinking, but also the promise of a fresh slate, where the possibilities are endless. All those emotions are exacerbated when it’s 1999 and New Year’s Eve is ushering in a new millennium. This is when the Reggie Yates movie Pirates takes place, during the final few hours before Y2K begins.
A trio of tight-knit friends, Cappo (Elliot Edusah), Two Tonne (Jordan Peters), and Kidda (Reda Elazouar), who also work at a pirate radio station, are spending these remaining few hours of 1999 tracking down tickets to the hottest New Year’s Eve party in the area. Scoring these items, as well as securing the necessary wardrobe for the event, will lead them to crossing paths with a series of wacky personalities. There also may or may not be some simmering tension between members of the group that could come to a head under extreme duress.
It’s impossible not to admire how Yates keeps Pirates streamlined on a storytelling level. Running under 80 minutes before the end credits begin to roll, there’s no extra twist taking the film into a new genre nor are there attempts to make this not your daddy’s hangout comedy. It’s just a humorous movie about agreeably affable exchanges and the bonds that give you the courage to face a new year. There isn’t an extra element that can take it to the next level of entertaining, but it also means Pirates isn’t constantly straining to justify its existence.
It helps that the three lead actors all have enjoyable chemistry together that believably sells their characters as having been longtime friends. A film this stripped-down will sink like an anchor if the performers don’t strike just the right chord, so it’s extra relieving to see this element of the production proving plenty satisfactory. Edusah and company are decked out in outfits from costume designer Nat Turner, another standout aspect from Pirates. There’s plenty of colorful attire scattered throughout the movie, a perfect visual flourish for a feature about people hoping to party the 20th century away.
Unfortunately, solid lead performances and good costumes can’t fully compensate for the shortcomings in Pirates’ screenplay. Chiefly, the attempts at drama that dominate the second and third acts just aren’t as engaging as sillier sequences, like one depicting the main trio pulling off an elaborate shoplifting scheme. These characters are much more effective being wacky or shooting the breeze than they are as people we’re supposed to get deeply invested in.
Part of the issue is how derivative the personal problems and goals are, especially Two Tonne’s affections for a lady named Sophie (Kassius Nelson). It’s a generic romance you’ve seen a thousand times before, complete with the requisite trait of the lady in the equation having zero personality to her name. A barely contained conflict between Two Tonne and Cappo, meanwhile, similarly comes off as being too reminiscent of other features and ends up going exactly where you’d expect.
Its puzzling that Yates would focus so heavily on these melodramatic parts of the screenplay, given that they’re not the strongest suits of Pirates. These become so dominant in the production that the 79-minute runtime ends up feeling like it’s stretching on for way longer than that. Worse, the initially promising direction and cinematography from Yates and Rachel Clark, respectively, end up becoming more and more forgettable as these soapy parts of the story get increasingly prominent.
Most disappointing of all, the period-era setting of Pirates ends up existing only for cheap nostalgic name-drops. Within the first five minutes, one character talks about a new-fangled service called Google, while Sophie remarks that she and her family rented every possible movie from Blockbuster. Another critical scene between Two Tonne and an ex-lover involves reciting the lyrics to a Backstreet Boys song. This film knows late 1990s pop culture, but it’s all in the service of regurgitating the past rather than using these vintage fixtures for something more.
Pirates isn’t without its charms, especially when it comes to the fun and endearingly intimate bond between the three lead characters. Unfortunately, a miscalculated screenplay and an overabundance of cheap 1990s callbacks dilute the easygoing fun. Even if you handed me a bottle of rum, a Pirates life would still not be for me.