Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
Heresy though It may be, I’ve never been the greatest Alan Partridge fan. Maybe it’s just that I’m lukewarm on Steve Coogan, a comedian who can be very funny but you’d be hard-pressed to describe as personable. Partidge worked best for me back in The Day Today, when he was part of an ensemble. While his solo outings raised a smile I could take him or leave him, which is why I wasn’t in a huge hurry to see this mobilisation to the big screen. What’s most surprising is how successful a transition it is; not in terms of scale, since involving Alan in an international spy ring would be the kind of buffoonery to be expected from a Rowan Atkinson persona. Rather, in terms of plot; there’s more than enough here for 90 minutes, and it doesn’t feel as if Partridge has been stretched beyond his limits.
Declan Lowrey makes his feature debut, having plied his trade on TV (including Father Ted, Little Britain and a number of other Coogan collaborations). Despite shooting widescreen he doesn’t utilise the frame in an especially grand matter, but that seems part of the point; this is a siege movie set in Norfolk.
Maybe it’s down to the demands of movie demographics, but there’s definitely a sense that Alan has been reconceived as a more traditional protagonist. Sure, he is instrumental in causing the siege when he persuades his new bosses to sack fellow North Norfolk Digital DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney). Since Alan’s is the other name on the list, it’s inevitable (“Sack Pat!”). But he’s also given a taste of heroism brought on by ego (the crowds, the publicity) and even a love interest. Alan’s still inept, self-serving, objectionable, but he’s also a more palatable version of Alan, right down to the subtler make-up (he was surely in his mid-‘50s when Coogan was making I’m Alan Partridge, the age he is here, and he looks younger in Alpha Papa). Alan doesn’t shit himself for very long at the prospect of being sent into the hostage situation as a mediator and soon enough he’s exchanging gags with a police officer over favourite sieges (“Iranian Embassy”). If I were an aficionado, I might level the accusation that the character has been sold out, and consequently it may be the sanitised Alan I’m responding to in enjoying this so much.
I would have said there wasn’t much left to mine in the piss-taking of crap DJs. Smashy and Nicey about had it covered, but as a side dish, as it is here, the subject feels almost rejuvenated. Alan’s introductions (“soft rock cocaine enthusiasts Fleetwood Mac”), his music choices (“This is the theme from Ski Sunday”), his banter with sidekick Simon (Tim Key; “Never, never criticise Muslims. It’s only Christians. And Jews, a little bit”), the irritating young upstart breakfast DJs. Once Pat and Alan are co-presenting, in-siege, the incongruity really helps the material to fly. Whether it’s unwelcome phone-in guests (“Kill them all, Pat, and shoot the women first!”) or Alan playing to the gathered crowd like they’re a road show audience, the writers have hit on a very solid premise. And Meaney delivers just the right level of straight man playing, allowing Coogan to run off with all the best lines. Sure, some of the choices are very obvious (bonding over youtube video “Fat woman falls down hole”), but for the most part this is lively and engaging, and there are a number of laugh-out-loud sequences.
In particular, Alan miming to Roachford’s Cuddly Toy is sublime, The scene where he loses his trousers and pants (“What are you doing? It’s weird”) has become something of an instant classic. I probably laughed most at anti-terrorist unit’s response to a suspect package that comes flying out of an open window (“I’m really sorry. I done a shit in the box”). The gag of a tiny British version of a big Hollywood climax goes all the way back to Father Ted’s Speed-on-a-milk-float, and the spirit lives on with a road show bus chase and a shoot-out on Cromer Pier. Alan’s escape from said bus is especially inventive (“It’s a septic tank”). It’s probably fair to say I found the toilet humour funniest, but the Partridge movie is just as amusing when it takes in random targets; Alan getting carried away with Nazi-esque glove action (“Schweine!”), his response to Angela finishing his poem (“Why would a sock be on the moor?”) and encounter with death (“Hallo, Mr Seagull. Have you come to take my spirit away?”)
Alpha Papa did sufficiently sterling business that a sequel has already been announced. It looks like it will arrive in time for Alan’s 25th anniversary celebrations in 2016. No plot details have been announced, but it would be little surprise if they devise a scenario plunging Partridge into another life or death crisis. Alan as a drug mule?