Saturday, 10 August 2013

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa Review

Put on your best faux-leather driving gloves, and knock back a shot of Listerine for the ladies – that’s right, Alan Partridge is back (as if you didn’t know that). After the success of 2011’s Mid Morning Matters and TV specials, Steve Coogan’s infamous radio DJ returns to audiences in his biggest misadventure yet, armed only with a series of suede varsity jackets and a non-functioning filter for all of his thoughts. Yet whilst In the Loop, head writer Armando Iannuci’s prior cinematic crossover, proved a great success, there’s been a long and embarrassing history of British comedies that jumped the shark on the way to the silver screen, and for some, Alpha Papa’s trailers did nothing to alleviate the fear of another Parole Officer – or worse, Bean: the Movie. Suffice to say, Alpha Papa is classic Partridge, right down to that loud, lip smacking inhalation of tea before the On Air light flashes back on.

North Norfolk Digital is in a state of change. Goredale Media, owned by the obnoxious Jason Cresswell (Nigel Lindsay), is in the process of refitting the station into something more becoming to the youth market, and whilst Alan and his ever-eager co-host Sidekick Simon (Tim Key) continue to rule the 10-2 slot, veteran DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) is ungracefully given the chop, unable to fit in with the rebranded ‘Shape’ station. Yet when Pat returns to the station on its official launch party and takes everyone inside hostage, it falls on Alan to work with the police as negotiator.

It seems to be written in stone that any property previously consigned to the TV has to do it all bigger and louder when it hits the big screen, and the idea of Alan Partridge taking part in a farcical Die Hard sounds more like something Alan would imagine whilst running around his house posing with a finger gun, rather than something that would actually translate well to film. Yet it’s to the credit of writers Rob and Neil Gibbons that what does occur still feels true to the franchise as a whole. Over the years, Alan’s various TV and radio appearances have allowed for a developing character that Alpha Papa still works within – the Alan here is a little mellower (for awhile, at least), but is still the man of Norwich we know and love to cringe at. This is of course in large part to Steve Coogan’s continued love of the character, still evident on screen. The longer runtime, as well as allowing for appearances from everyone from PA Lynn to Michael the Geordie, also allows Coogan to really revel in the character’s reactions to the siege as it develops, and whilst some have accused the film of being too tied to its siege plot, I would argue that the narrative allows for some of the man’s greatest moments yet. Hanging from a window with your arse out might have taken the series further into slapstick than previously warranted, but in the context, it more than fits.

I’m hesitant to analyse the film much farther than to merely show my love for it, but whilst Alpha Papa is hilarious, it isn’t perfect. Quite why Colm Meaney’s character had to be introduced, when drunken loser Dave Clifton is always available, is beyond me, and the attempts to shove him into Alan’s back story felt somewhat contrived. Elsewhere, problems that have always dogged the series make their return; extended scenes that hinge for slightly too long on a single joke, or instances where Partridge is less cringetastic, more flat-out irritating. Thankfully, these are slight, and in honesty its brilliant just to see how much life and energy is still in this franchise after two decades of writing.

Alpha Papa is everything Partridge fans could want from Coogan, Iannucci et al. If you’re not a fan of the TV show, you’re not going to be won over here – but if you’re not a fan, why would you be considering this anyway? Better for the rest of us to sit back, relax, and enjoy Alan’s deepest bath yet.