I have been a fan of Alan Partridge (as played by Steve Coogan) since he appeared as the inept sports reporter in Chris Morris and Armando Ianucci’s The Day Today in the mid-1990s. Since then I have found the various TV, radio, online and print outings for the character never less than entertaining and, at their best, they have been some of the best comedy of the last two decades – up their with Father Ted, and believe me such a complement doesn’t come lightly!
So, when the news and then the first trailer for Alpha Papa appeared, I was at once excited but slightly skeptical – so many times have things I have a real fondness for been translated to the big screen and then ruined in the process (Transformers, need I say more, thanks Michael Bay) but, thankfully, Alan Partridge remains intact here as the writers take a clever swipe at big budget Hollywood action movies while keeping Alan firmly as the character we have grown to, for want of a better word, love.
From the start we are dropped into Alan’s world, a small time radio studio in Norwich where older DJs on their way down (both our hero and his antagonist, brilliantly played by Colm Meaney, fall into this category) and younger presenters on the rise rub shoulders. This sets the scene for most of the movie as the situation descends into a near Die Hard like hostage/siege situation with Alan taking the place of John McClane, with all the ridiculous happenings that brings to mind.
At a lean 90 minutes flat duration (including credits) its nice to see that the producers and writers didn’t try and over extend the film as this feels very much like previous Partridge outings, just escalated to make it a movie, and it genuinely feels like a movie rather than an expanded TV show, while retaining much of the same humour though, thankfully, not repeating the same jokes and situations we had previously seen.
As with all Alan Partridge what really makes Alpha Papa work is the balance between surreal situations placed in the ‘real’ world, with a real sense of the despair and loneliness that has come to form the heart of Alan, and is mirrored in Meaney’s Pat Farrel, that is used expertly to add to the humour.
Coogan’s performance is of course the centre of the film and he reprises the role of Partridge in fine style making it entirely the character we have seen in the past but grown to fit the new medium and with the developments documented in ‘autobiography’ I, Partridge all included implicitly if not always explicitly. So, for all the action and talk of “siegeface” we also have the absurdly precise descriptions of cars and the Norwich traffic arrangements.
The supporting cast of returning characters are all similarly well drawn, developed and played with Lynn (Felicity Montagu) and Michael (Simon Greenal) both returning and developing the Partridge legend with their continued presence and working with Alan in the way we have to come to love and expect.
The real triumph that makes Alpha Papa work so well, and surely surpass The World’s End in terms of British comedy in 2013, it is that is totally un-selfconscious of what has come before and works as a stand alone story but with a lot of extras if you know the history and, unlike Pegg and Wright’s movie, it doesn’t feel like the writers wanted it to live up to anything but just to tell its story, in which they had total confidence, and it does this in one of the most successful ways I’ve seen in a long time.
But I still think Colossal Velocity or Hectic Danger Day would have been better titles.