Before the magnificent cringe comedy of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and Ricky Gervais’ The Office was Steve Coogan’s Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge a TV talk show parody in which the eponymous host was as contemptible and hilarious as Larry David or Gervais’ David Brent. The superbly vain, egotistical, spineless and conniving Partridge later appeared in radio station parodies I’m Alan Partridge and Mid-Morning Matters with Alan Partridge. Coogan’s alter-ego now comes to the big screen in the oddly named Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa.
Cinematic adaptations of TV shows are always fraught with danger. Expanding to feature length a show that usually runs in one hour or half hour instalments often means padding out the story with ill- fitting genre elements such as action, sci-fi or cheesy romance that radically alter, dilute or dumb down the original show’s clever idiosyncratic concepts and humour. Alpha Papa suffers slightly from these afflictions but still manages to score consistent laughs.
When a slick media conglomerate acquires the radio station North Norfolk Digital, DJ Partridge and other greying presenters face the axe. After some meddling from Partridge, one of the station’s venerable hosts, Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) becomes the sacrificial lamb. When Pat flips out and takes the station staff hostage, Partridge who had escaped, is forced to go back in and negotiate with the gun-toting madman. The cowardly, bumbling Partridge is like the anti-John Maclean as he displays no concern for the other captives, inadvertently foils any attempt to resolve the siege and even misses the opportunity to swipe the gun when Pat leaves it behind to have a shower. All the while Partridge swings back and forth from appeasing the gunman to conspiring with the station’s repulsive yuppie boss (Sean Pertwee son of Dr Who Jon Pertwee) in the hope that his career might benefit from this potentially deadly crisis.
As Partridge, Coogan is hilarious as he delivers his patented droll witticisms and tactless observations while selfishly attempting to manipulate this dangerous situation for his own ends. Steve Coogan is one of those actors who can elicit instant laughs with his facial expressions and the tone of his voice as we recognise within his characters the embarrassing weaknesses and foibles that we all have. Coogan’s antics, as well as the film’s sharp parody of commercial radio’s lamentable programming, corporate imperatives and creativity-destroying brand-mantras, help make this one of the funniest films of the year.
Not everything in this film works, though. The action hijinks as Partridge frantically flees the gunman don’t really fit the Partridge universe and seem more appropriate for a Simon Pegg film. In fact, the action scenes and the siege concept itself don’t have much impact as Colm Meaney’s downtrodden Pat is more sympathetic than threatening. The rest of the supporting cast, which includes Tim Key as Alan’s younger sidekick Simon, Monica Dolan as a potential love interest and Felicity Montagu as Alan’s dim but unflappably cheery assistant Lyn are really just quirky bit players who are given few funny lines. Also, some low-brow gags, including one in which Partridge is literally in a toilet, grate with his established character and cheapen the film.
This is not a perfect big screen birth for Alan Partridge but Coogan’s wonderfully despicable character is still a riot.
Nick’s rating: Three and a half stars.
Director(s): Declan Lowney.
Release date: 24th Oct 2013
Running time: 90 mins.
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