Right, I am truly surprised to have to say this, but Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is really quite funny and entertaining. The surprise comes in two stages:
Firstly because Steve Coogan‘s Partridge character is, knowingly, a total arse, one I could normally only bear to watch through my fingers while visibly cringing and shouting “no no no no no NOOOOOOO!” at the TV. You will recall that the Radio Norfolk DJ first saw light of day on Radio 4, courtesy of Armando Iannucci, then developed from parody into sitcom via three radio and two TV series, plus countless ads, into the vain, banal and pedantic oaf we now know so well.
The second surprising aspect is because you would not suspect putting Partridge into a hostage situation would not sustain a movie for the requisite 90 minutes. Coogan and director Declan Lowney have, to their credit, kept it to 90 minutes on the nail. Many have failed in this simple quest, but worse – way too many have filled the screen with drivel lasting two hours and way beyond into the twilight zone.
My expectations were therefore for a movie which started with some good gags but then petered out from the mid-way point, substituting sheer unmitigated embarrassment for humour. At worst, it might have been the first movie I ever walked out of, though I’ve come close on several occasions; at best a few memorable lines moments and the usual Partridge array of bumbling ineptitude.
Seems Coogan has learned some lessons from past outings, where scripts were a patchy assembly of set pieces and the characters constructed of finest 2-grade cardboard, existing merely to act as foils and back-plot to Partridge. There is more of a feeling of solidity here, a more rounded feel to the whole scenario. This is clearly a function of good scripting, jokes and one-liners constructed with care, sympathetic direction and especially greater licence given to a decent cast of actors to dig beneath the surface and offer greater counterpoint to the lunacy of Partridge.
Chief among these is his colleague at North Norfolk Digital, sorry “Shape” as it is rebranded by the corporation now owning the station (nice touch of satire there), Pat Farrell, played by the fine Irish actor Colm Meaney, he of Star Trek fame. Meaney’s contribution is at least as significant as Coogan’s as the sad sacked DJ who holds station execs, DJs and admin staff hostage while continuing to broadcast. Every comic needs a straight man to feed him the cues, but Meaney adds pathos and feeling to what could have been a ham sandwich of a role.
This is merely the scenario, the backdrop against which to hang Partridge’s lunacy, with the twist that Farrell wants to use the egocentric Partridge as a go-between, without realising that Partridge has saved his own scrawny neck by writing “Just Sack Pat” on the flip chart in the boardroom. Along the way there are some excellent moments, like the DJ losing his trousers and underwear while attempting to break back into the building, and Partridge’s face mooning out of the toilet in the mobile broadcast unit as he attempts to escape from Farrell.
The finale on Cromer pier sees Partridge shot, once accidentally as he throws away the shotgun and once by the police. Naturally, he milks it to the bitter end but the inevitable ending sees Partridge broadcasting and presumably ready in the event that a sequel is commissioned by public demand. I hope not – stick while you’re winning.
This is and was always going to be a lightweight movie, nothing of any great consequence, probably not worth the price of the DVD other than in the remaindered bucket, but if it makes you smile for 90 minutes then it has done its job. Nice one, Alan!