Saturday, August 17, 2013

AH-HA! Partrige flies to the big screen!

I was completely disinterested in Steve Coogan’s narcissistic chat show host turned radio DJ character Alan Partridge when I first encountered him in the mid-90’s. However once I heard that Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa was getting good reviews, produced by Armando Iannucci [who makes Veep on HBO] and as my friends twisted my arm, I said I’d best brush up on the whole phenomenon of the man himself before seeing his big screen debut.

In preparation for the movie event I listened to his early 1991 appearances written by Coogan, Iannucci and others on BBC radio on the comedy sketch series On The Hour, transitioning to TV with The Day Today in '94 where Partridge was the sports commentator, who apparently knew precious little about the sport he was covering. Then his famed radio chat show Knowing Me, Knowing You, which itself transitioned to Television where Partridge was the host to a show where he managed to insult almost every guest with everything from homophobic and racist comments to physically striking a small child and accidentally shooting his final guest dead, live on air. I took in both series of I’m Alan Partridge ['97 & '02] as well as his more recent webseries Mid Morning Matters [2010] and a host of numerous one-off shows and other TV appearances over the years before digesting Coogan’s seven-hour reading of the audio book version of “I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan”, Partridge’s ‘autobiography’ which I can only describe as an insane tirade of side splitting hilarity married with a dark depression, yet the product of pure genius.

As I mentioned my original encounter led to disinterest in Alan Partridge as a whole but it was obvious as I waded through some 32 hours of content last week, that I just hadn’t been ‘ready’ for it in mid 90’s. Not only did I look at it from a completely different perspective but digesting that much Partrige in such a short space of time suitably prepared me for what to expect from Coogan’s most famous character - in so far as it almost made me as unhinged from reality as he is. Let me be clear that I do not condone doing the same as I have done as I’ve received highly advanced military psychological training and so I’m able to deal with an audio/visual onslaught of that magnitude but a lesser man would’ve crumpled under the weight of such an abundance of Partridge.

But what of the movie itself, what of Alan’s transition from radio to TV back to radio, onto the web and now to the silver screen? Well I’m pleased to report that while it’s obviously a big screen comedy spectacle – it’s still just Alan Partridge - this is the movie’s greatest strength, but also it’s chief weakness. Partridge’s ‘adventures’ albeit never quite on this scale before [even his escape from a deranged superfan] have always been tight and consolidated ideas never veering too wildly in more than one direction and the same holds true for Alpha Papa. While this obviously allows Coogan’s comic genius to shine it does shoehorn the movie into a single trick – that Partridge is both a sad wanker and a self-congratulatory arsehole and thus comedy gold – and if you don’t like that trick [or prefer it in smaller doses] then you’re royally fucked about 40 minutes into the movie. However after 32 hours of Partridge from Sunday to Saturday afternoon, another 2 hours wasn’t going to kill me especially as I now in fact had seen in total, more Partridge than any of the group of people who had originally convinced me to go the movie.

Coogan is joined on screen by Colm Meany as Pat Farrell, an Irish DJ whom a modern digital communications conglomerate deem unnecessary when they take over North Norfolk Digital [Norfolk’s best… North Norfolk’s Best Music Mix]. Farrell has a fit, grabs a shotgun and begins an armed siege during the radio stations rebranding party. Sadly the police don’t realise what sort of trouble they are asking for when they enlist Alan Partridge to act as negotiator for the siege which of course puts him in the media spotlight – a place Alan has proved he is the most dangerous and unpredictable – with hilarious results!

Three major Partridge alumni reprise their prominent roles in the movie Simon Greenall [Michael the Geordie], Tim Key as Sidekick Simon, Phil Cornwell as troubled DJ Dave Clifton and of course where would the man himself be without poor Felicity Montagu as his assistant Lynn? The more eagle eyed patron [or at least someone who had just finished watching/listening to every Partridge appearence in the past 20+ years] will recognise several of the other actors as cops and hostages who have worked elsewhere in the world of Alan Partridge. Watch out for the great Sean Pertwee and our own Simon Delaney as the 'elite' firearms officers.

I'm not entirely sure if you should approach this movie with little or know foreknowledge of the character, I don't think it would work to the same effect, but if your a 'fan' then you're in for a treat as well as being served up the the best comedy of the year thus far. Anchorman 2, your bar has been set!

Colonel Creedon rating: ****

Additional: Since I drafted the review, I have learned that Alpha Papa has reached #1 in the UK box office. Coogan [in character] exclaimed "Now is not a time for gloating or celebration, more a time for healing old wounds, a time to say, 'Let us join together in thanks that I am number one at the box office'. Halleluja."

No comments: