After years of wild speculation, at long last Alan Partridge fans can rejoice in the fact the Steve Coogan creation has finally made his way to the big screen, with expectations high for his cinematic debut. However, with longer, darker hair, less crow’s feet around the eyes, and evidently more nimble on his feet, it seems we’re dealing with a slightly different Alan on this occasion – and it’s this very fact which prevents the long-awaited feature film from being quite the comedy masterpiece we had expected. Although it certainly is Partridge, it’s just not quite Partridge enough.
It’s safe to say that Alan’s career has been on a downward slope ever since he accidentally shot a guest on his BBC show Knowing Me, Knowing You. Unable to secure a second series, he took the graveyard shift at Radio Norwich, before once again downgrading, now as a regular – and relatively popular – DJ at North Norfolk Digital, in his show Mid-Morning Matters alongside his sidekick presenter Simon (Tim Key). However everything changes when the company is bought out by media moguls Shape, headed by entrepreneur Jason Tresswell (Nigel Lindsay). Old-timer Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) is sacked, only to return with a rifle, to keep all of his former employers and colleagues hostage, with the siege making primetime news. It comes down to Alan Partridge to work as the mediator between the perpetrator and the police, as he finally gets the media attention he has always craved – albeit in somewhat unfavourable circumstances.
Given the nature of Alpha Papa, we carelessly deviate away from what matters most: Alan. The siege takes up so much of the narrative it allows little room to explore Alan’s mind , which is where the television series thrives. Alan is a tragic character and it simply feels like an opportunity missed by not substantially delving into his relationship with Lynn (Felicity Montagu), or his kids, or his ex-wife Carol (who ran off with a French fitness instructor). In the TV series the entire show revolves around him, and in Alpha Papa he merely feels like a supporting character in a much grander project, getting lost in the story somewhat. Of course expanding the Alan universe was a necessity in making this a success on the big screen, but it feels like a lazy attempt by bringing in guns and hostages and whatnot, losing its subtlety along the way. It’s no surprise that the finest moments within this title concern the actual radio show, as it’s so much more simplistic.
There is no denying this is a good comedy – fortunate enough to have Father Ted director Declan Lowney at the helm – but it’s not necessarily a strong Alan Partridge outing. The jokes are less intelligent, and reliant on stunts and slapstick humour to provoke laughter. It’s evidently an attempt to make Partridge more accessible, but as a result could leave the aficionados feeling somewhat cold and alienated. The relationship and dynamic with Lynn isn’t as punchy as it usually is, while Alan himself is too bold and confident – he loses some of his much needed vulnerability. Where’s the Partridge who acted like a naughty schoolboy when caught trying to steal a traffic cone?
On a more positive note, Meaney turns in a fine performance as our lead antagonist, while there are plenty of laughs to be had throughout, and a plethora of memorable one-liners (“She’s a drunk racist Lynn, I can tolerate one, but not both”). However nothing truly feels like it’s been achieved or resolved in regards to Alan’s life, in a film that is certainly missing the writing credentials of the great Armando Iannucci, who is a mere collaborator rather than leading screenwriter in this instance.
This may have its moments of brilliance, but on the whole it’s a rather underwhelming cinematic debut for Alan, particularly in relation to the sheer class and ingenuity on show in his respective TV performances. I’d sooner have sat through an episode of Monkey Tennis.