Renowned British documentarian and TV personality Reggie Yates burst onto big screens late last year with Pirates, his first foray into directing and screenwriting. Having worked on TV films and smaller shorts in the past, this was his first time going into feature-length filmmaking. The result is a rollercoaster of an 80-minute flick that both harkens back to nostalgic times while also playing it reasonably safe in terms of plot and structure.
Pirates follows three friends — Cappo (Elliot Edusah), Two Tonne (Jordan Peters), and Kidda (Reda Elazouar) — on New Years’ Eve 1999, at the turn of the millennium. While running their own pirate radio station in their spare time, their heads are where any teenage boy’s would be: ready for a wild night to celebrate a completely new era together. What ensues is a madcap dash not only to get tickets, eschewing a night of PS1 for partying instead, while also making sure they avoid problems and even just stay friends by the time the clock strikes twelve.
If that plot sounds reminiscent of other teen-slanted films such as Superbad, then that’s because, broadly speaking, it does go down that line. While the setting and charm of Pirates is clear from its late-90s aesthetic, original narrative isn’t something especially on display here. They go down even self-destructive option a teen desperate for a hot ticket would try, from begging scorned exes to shoplifting clothes in a manner that would make Mr. Bean blush. It’s charming and comforting for sure, but if you’ve seen any of the Superbad-inspired teen movie canon, such as 21 and Over or Project X, then you’ll know what to expect. That’s even down to the much-forecasted second act argument with the troupe going their own ways, which cases the pacing to sag significantly.
But the real charm of Pirates doesn’t come from its plot, but rather the design and setting. Yates imbues the film with a clear reverence for late nineties Britain, from references to the early days of Google to the appearance of the beloved ‘bruised banana’ Arsenal away strip. The soundtrack thumps with garage classics and British rap, and in those moments it feels like a fitting tribute to a time that now harkens plenty of nostalgia. It’s aided by especially zippy editing that occasionally feels inspired by the likes of early Edgar Wright fare, which helps keep the film bouncing and likeable, even when the plot falters.
And ultimately, Pirates isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to teen movies of this ilk. Instead, it takes that tried-and-tested formula and applies it to an under-explored period of British culture, where underground culture started bubbling to the mainstream and the world felt much more innocent than it is now. A clear reference point for British viewers will be the hit BBC series People Just Do Nothing, which admittedly handles the ‘garage radio’ elements better than Pirates – but it’s certainly a good property to rub shoulders with.
As such, Pirates doesn’t revolutionise British youth cinema, even if it’s directed by a man renowned for his immensely watchable documentaries. Instead, it’s an ode to a bygone period and setting, that oozes charm even when the story leaves a lot to be desired. Anchored by its clear reverence for the time period, you won’t fall in love with the characters or gawp at the situations they find themselves in. Instead, Pirates is 80 minutes of comfort, and a pleasant nostalgia dose of Y2K nostalgia.
Pirates is out on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital on May 16.