The Pirate Movie (1982) – By Jonathon Pernisek

 It has been some time since I first heard about The Pirate Movie, but the singularly insipid title and inherent promise of b-grade swashbuckling kept it in the back of my mind while on the hunt for new material. Imagine my surprise when I spotted the recently released DVD sitting unassumingly within a local Meijer, its untapped potential just waiting to be realized by a perfectly hapless consumer. Well as anyone knows I’m as hapless as you can get, so I snatched it up immediately. Now, after watching the movie twice and expecting more than a few other screenings in my future, I can safely say it’s one of my all-time favorite examples of cinematic idiocy.

The Pirate Movie is based on the Gilbert and Sullivan opera The Pirates of Penzance, which is kind of like saying, I dunno, badgers are based on yeti because they both have feet. Only the barest of plot essentials connect the two pieces, is what I’m trying to say. There’s a gang of swarthy pirates, yes, and one among them who decides to go straight after meeting the love of his life, it is true, and together the couple does intend to get married despite her modern major general of a father’s objections. But once these facts are put on the table, it’s anyone’s game.

To start, the movie doesn’t start off in the world of parrots and doubloons but rather in the thickest, greasiest part of the ‘80s. I know, right, who would have guessed I’d be reviewing a film from that decade? And every tasteless convention is on display during this sequence, from bad bathing suits and music to a blind musician playing the keytar for money. And just in case any of you thought you could escape the all-powerful presence of product placement, the film manages to squeeze in spots for both Baskin-Robbins and McDonald’s in the span of five minutes. “Wow, McDonald’s! Hey gang, how ‘bout after the film we pick us up a couple a Big Macs?”

At the center of this gross display are Christopher Atkins and Kristy McNichol, who play Frederic and Mabel, respectively. The hunky Freddie invites a frumpy Mabel out for some skin diving after teaching her a lesson in swordplay, but our timid heroine finds herself stranded when her nasty friends storm his boat and set sail. In the first of many wondrously stupid plot points, Mabel decides to rent a boat and pursue the group, which of course ends in disaster. Why no one is required to supervise Mabel is beyond my intuition, but in any case she winds up unconscious on a nearby island. The pirate-based portion of the film thus takes place in her comatose noggin.

Oh, and what a portion it is, ladies and gentlemen. The movie truly has to be seen to be believed, as I don’t think any amount of description will do it justice. Put mildly, the people behind this picture must have been coked out of their minds, because after a while I had no idea what to expect. It’s an outright comedy, but its sources range from Hee-Haw to Monty Python and back again. One of the pirates is black for no other reason than the token humor he provides, which I couldn’t get enough of, to be honest. And the acting is oftentimes so terrible I couldn’t decide if the actors were going for camp or just couldn’t muster any actual talent for line delivery. Atkins is by far the worst of the lot, staring into space like a sea sponge but with less personality. On the flip side, McNichol turns out to be genuinely funny and charming, holding everything together with little more than a smile and sharp timing.

And of course, The Pirate Movie is a musical, featuring a truckload of songs that will either horrify the listener with their reliance on synth and horns or stick in their minds for weeks to follow. Personally, I loved some of the tunes, especially such drippy ballads as “First Love” and the goofy as hell number known as “The Modern Major General’s Song.” The former is purposely made all the more sappy as you watch Atkins and Nichols’ giant heads super-imposed on crashing ocean waves or riding on horseback. Obviously no one is taking this seriously, so even if you hate the material you may paradoxically end up loving it at the same time.

Like I said before, you’re much better of witnessing the sheer nuttiness of The Pirate Movie than reading about it via some review. My job is done, and so I heartily recommend adding this flick to your collection of schlocky pirate/musical/comedies. If anything else you’ll get to hear the black pirate shout, “Hang five honky!” and Lord knows we all need that at some point in our lives.