The regular trap that Christmas specials and big screen takes on television shows fall into is to remove the natural context that the characters seem to thrive on. So we get them heading off to far-off climes, or into scenarios a million miles removed from how we’re used to seeing them, and with few exceptions (The Inbetweeners Movie being one), they come a cropper as they do so. Moved away from home ground, you begin to appreciate why the ‘sit’ bit of ‘sitcom’ comes first.
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa clearly makes a conscious choice to avoid such a folly right from the start. This is firmly a film about a 55-year old man from Norwich, who stays within the bounds of Norfolk for the whole movie. In doing so, it inevitably opens the film up to accusations of being a little unambitious, or more of an extended television episode. Realistically, there’s a hint of truth to both of those criticisms.
But then there’s a significant upside. Staying on home turf allows the film to pick and fight battles there’s never any danger of it losing. The story, a slight one, has a tip of the hat to the 90s comedy Airheads, as North Norfolk Digital’s infamous DJ Alan Partridge – played, of course, by Steve Coogan – finds himself caught in a corporate takeover, and consequent job insecurity. So begins a succession of events that ultimately sees Partridge’s colleague, played by the terrific Colm Meaney, grabbing himself a gun and taking said radio station hostage. And only Partridge, along with some welcome returning faces from his television days, can save the day. With all the commercial opportunities that offers.
This setup allows Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa to contain its story for the most part in the interior of a small, not very good radio station. And whilst there are some glorious moments later in the film where we get to see Norwich showcased on a cinema screen, we spend much of the film in fairly claustrophobic surroundings.
This, though, is prime ground for Partridge, and with gimmicks stripped away, the onus, rightly, centres on whether the film works, and whether it delivers laughs. And unlike the majority of big screen comedies over the past 12 months, Alpha Papa ticks both boxes.
Wisely keeping its running time down to a trim hour and a half, the limited setup just about stretches and gets the film over the line. What enriches it, though, is the succession of laughs the film manages to generate. If the rule of a comedy is you need to laugh five or six times to get your money’s worth, then Alpha Papa comfortably beats it. It’s more chuckles than guffaws for the most part, but whether it’s a trademark Partridge inappropriate line, or a physical moment pulled out of nowhere, Alpha Papa consistently works as a comedy film.
Much of the reason for that, outside of the tight script, is down to spending quality time with Coogan’s Partridge. Director Declan Lowney doesn’t fuss over him, rather he takes a step back and lets characters talk to each other, and the delivery of quality lines take precedence. Furthermore, we get the complete range of Alan Partridge here, in a full-on reminder of why he’s one of the most brilliantly realised comedy characters that British radio and television has produced over the past few decades. It almost goes without saying that Steve Coogan’s performance – from the overlong pauses to the facial tics – is wonderful.
Credit, too, to the excellent Felicity Montagu as long-suffering Lynn. One of the absolute highlights of the TV series, she gets a solid amount of screentime here, and doesn’t waste a frame of it. It’s nice to see, too, a full fleshing out of Colm Meaney’s character, where you may have feared a less three dimensional creation.
In truth, Alpha Papa runs close to – although doesn’t quite hit – the standard of the almost-peerless I’m Alan Partridge series one for a good chunk of time. The character remains, by turns, funny, cowardly, egotistical, wormy, and fantastically entertaining. But the trick to Partridge at his best is that he’s a wonderfully likeable unlikeable man. The film does nothing to tinker with that, turning Partridge as a result into one of the most loveable human monsters to grace the cinema screen.
In a summer where big comedies have fallen, to a degree, under a weight of gimmicks, bloated running times or straight-out nastiness, Alpha Papa feels like a breath of fresh air. It is a feature length I’m Alan Partridge episode in truth, and cinematics are in short supply. But entertainment certainly isn’t. And, for the majority of its running time, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is very funny, very quotable, very good, and very much worth seeing. Thriker!
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa‘s out on 7th August in the UK.
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