Steve Coogan’s television character—a self-absorbed radio DJ blissfully unaware of his abrasiveness and shocked that anyone should take offense at it—is far better known in Britain than in America, but Alan Partridge makes the transition to the big screen in a form that anybody can enjoy, whether you’re already a fan of the TV sketches or not.
Coogan has been playing Partridge on the tube for more than twenty years, over which the character’s career path included highs (as host of a national talk show) and lows (his descent to position on a local station in Norwich, his hometown). That’s where he’s found at the start of the movie, co-hosting a morning mix of music and chatter with his sidekick Simon (Tim Key). The takeover of the station by a media conglomerate leads him to barge into a meeting of the new executives, where he intends to plead for them to keep on his old-fashioned colleague Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney), who’s nervous about his future. But suddenly confronted by the fact that he might get sacked himself, Alan urges them to dump Farrell instead.
Pat, who’s already depressed over the death of his wife, responds by taking over the station with a gun and holding the new owner (Nigel Lindsay) and an assortment of other workers hostage. The only person he’ll talk to is Alan, whom he still presumes to be his buddy and protector. So the cops who have surrounded the building reluctantly send in the loquacious DJ to serve as mediator and persuade Pat to release his prisoners and surrender. Alan’s initially distressed at the thought of being thrust into the position of would-be hero, but he gradually perceives the possibility of using the episode to enhance his public standing and perhaps reinvigorate his stalled career—a move that distresses his incredibly loyal but religiously-motivated assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu). In the process Alan resumes chummy status with Pat, with whom he goes on the air even while poor Simon is stuck wearing an aluminum-foil cap into which Farrell’s rifle stuck, pointed at his head.
Of course things deteriorate further from there, especially after Partridge and Farrell take their act on the road in the station’s old broadcasting RV and Pat finds out that far from trying to save his job, Partridge had sold him out. Eventually the two men wind up on a boardwalk on the Norfolk Coast, with Pat still wielding the shotgun, Alan trying desperately to act the hero, and the cops in full pursuit. But even here the action is kept relatively small-scaled; a few doddering old folk—typical British eccentrics—are added to the mix, but basically Coogan and Meaney carry the plot along pretty much by themselves to the end.
And they’re quite enough. Coogan has played Partridge for so long it’s become virtually second nature to him, and he embodies the unaccountably smug, self-absorbed fellow perfectly, even managing to bring just a hint of a suggestion that he might not be entirely unaware of his flaws. Meaney, who can switch from geniality to menace on a dime, is equally fine as the volatile Farrell. Under the loose but not lackadaisical hand of director Declan Lowney, the rest of the cast contribute sharp supporting turns, with Montagu taking the prize as Alan’s devoted aide. On the technical side of things, cinematographer Ben Smithard takes advantage of the Norfolk locations and the other members of the crew do solid work. Happily the score by Ilan Eshkeri doesn’t feel the need to pump up the laughs, and the other music cues—mostly involving songs played over the air—are wittily chosen.
The subtitle “Alpha Papa” of the original British release has apparently been shelved for international distribution. But Coogan’s humor travels as well as single-malt Scotch or Irish Whiskey.