Film Review: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
Aside from his own personal slumps, the character of Alan Gordon Partridge has enjoyed quite the capacious career. From his first incarnations on early 1990s radio shows On the Hour and Knowing Me, Knowing You to two BBC series of the deliciously cringeworthy I’m Alan Partridge in 1997 and 2002, as well as countless spin-offs and guest appearances, Alan has amassed his fair share of experience as an entertainer. And thank heavens he’s retained such shelf-life across two decades, because this bullying, socially inept shit is such a rich comic creation, who wholeheartedly survives the leap to the big screen.
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa finds Alan (Steve Coogan) trundling along in his usual existence, still jockeying his Mid-Morning Matters show on North Norfolk Digital Radio. However, when the station is taken over by a multinational conglomerate, the proposed alterations ruffle a few feathers amongst the employees. When Alan gatecrashes an executive meeting in an attempt to butter up his new bosses, he notices the head honchos umming and aahing over the decision to axe one of two radio presenters: himself, or the embittered Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney).
After intervening, Alan saves his own skin by throwing Pat to the dogs, but consequently, Pat stages a coup, taking several of the station’s employees hostage and barricading them inside the recording studios. Alan is approached by the police to serve as a mediator between his ex-colleague and the armed forces, which pushes Alan into dangerous territory, but also back into the media spotlight.
As with I’m Alan Partridge, there’s a definite predilection on behalf of the writers to place comedy above story in the list of priorities. Yet while such a strategy befits the confines of a thirty-minute episode (throughout the television series, the lack of progression provides a prime backdrop for the humour), in Alpha Papa, the experience feels quite scattershot. Naturally, nobody’s expecting world-beating triumphs of dialogue, but the script does seem overly keen to zip from punchline to punchline, with romantic and moral progressions skimmed over as quickly as possible, as if the writers were anxious to ensure that enough chuckles were squeezed into 90 minutes to appease fans.
Thankfully, in that area at least, Alpha Papa is textbook. As is expected, the biggest laughs of the film stem from Alan’s archetypal buffoonery, and regardless of the daft mechanics of the siege itself, the Alan-centric set-pieces are the moments which linger longest in the memory. Particular highlights include a plummy rendition of ‘Always on My Mind’, the build-up to an impromptu jingle recording, and the brand of typically hilarious radio chatter which has long graced the Partridge mythos.
In the pseudo-icon’s wake, we are also given time with faces old and new. Rightfully, the endearingly browbeaten Lynn (Felicity Montagu) gets some time to shine, but sadly, Michael (Simon Greenall) is short-changed, with only a handful of moments granted to the Geordie mainstay. It’s a shame, because his brief appearances are arguably some of the best in the film. Colm Meaney fares slightly better, lending the supposedly antagonistic Pat a human, sympathetic edge which makes him a surprisingly touching asset, and one which could have done with further exploring. Other new ideas and developments are present and correct, though they do tend to blur into the background, with the film’s final moments spent in the service of a narrative strand which never took off to begin with.
Truth be told, as a film in its own right, Alpha Papa is found wanting on several fronts, with its narrative arcs threadbare and forced, alongside a plot which soon pales to riskless. The whole structure does feel more like a serviceable chassis to allow Coogan maximum gurning time: an affliction much better concealed in the likes of I’m Alan Partridge. Nevertheless, it’s reassuring to know that even when the story runs out of puff, Partridge himself doesn’t. Two decades on from his first appearance, and up on the big screen for the first time, Alan still has the magic.
The story itself feels too slight and undercooked to really make its own mark, but it’s clear that the rib-tickling capabilities of the man himself are very much intact. Kiss his Siegeface!
Posted on August 15, 2013, in The Film World and tagged Alan Partridge, Alpha Papa, Declan Lowney, Film Review, I'm Alan Partridge, Knowing Me, Knowing You, Lynn Benfield, Michael, North Norfolk Digital, Simon Greenall, Steve Coogan, StudioCanal UK. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.