It’s not necessary to have an intimate knowledge of actor and writer Steve Coogan’s most famous alter ego to enjoy Alan Partridge and the several British television series and specials the character has popped up in, but it does give a slight advantage to those who do. Fans of Coogan’s portrayal of a former television blowhard now slumming it as a small market radio DJ will probably get more belly laughs than those with only a passing interest. That doesn’t mean the film doesn’t work, but it will probably make the difference between someone really loving the film and how it decontextualizes a 20 year old character and someone who will probably just see it as a good way to kill 90 minutes with some mild chuckles.
It’s been some years now since Alan’s glory days on television, and he still barely hangs onto his job in mid-level radio market Norwich hosting the early afternoon show. When the station is purchased by a corporate conglomerate, a fellow DJ (Colm Meaney) gets the sack (mostly because Alan throws him under a bus to save his own skin) and he returns to the station’s launch party with a shotgun to take everyone hostage. Obviously disturbed and without clear motivation or demands beyond just getting his show back on the air, the gunman will only talk to the police via Alan – the one person he thinks he can be friendly with. Alan relishes the opportunity to feel even remotely important again, leading to him placing himself and everyone around him in great danger because he’s a narcissistic idiot.
Whenever Coogan plays Partridge, either here or on television, he disappears into the role completely, leaving little trace of the actor playing him. It was actually kind of a hard thing for Coogan to shake in order to branch out in his career simply because of how effortless he makes the character come across. Every tossed off, lame brained deep thought he has or every flip of his overcompensating and immovable hair gives the impression of a completely lived in performance. That’s no different here and neither is the humour for the most part. It’s an egoless performance of a man who has one of the biggest egos ever to be wrongfully inflated.
That effortless feeling could be a part of the film’s greatest problem or potentially greatest strength depending on how someone approaches the film. Those who have previously enjoyed watching Partridge get continually cut down to size over the course of his last two series should find a lot to like in how little Coogan, co-creator Armando Iannucci, and veteran UK television director Declan Lowney have kept things simple instead of letting the character run amok in a Die Hard clone. For those who go in cold with no knowledge of Coogan’s style of humour when in the Partridge character, they’ll still be pleasantly surprised but will have much less of a reason to get excited about all the little details and callbacks the pepper the film. If anything, non-fans of Partridge will get more laughs once the initial set-up is out of the way with some crudely funny set pieces and a very funny slow moving chase scene climax.
At least the film’s sense of nostalgia for the character doesn’t seem misplaced. It certainly seems like a story that everyone involved wanted to tell and Coogan still has fun playing the fool, so there’s certainly no harm being done to the greater franchise or to passing audiences. It’s one of those films that the old “mileage may vary” caveat could refer to when gauging how largely unfamiliar North American audiences will respond to the film. As someone who has enjoyed the character briefly in passing, I can say that I had a good time, but I could also see myself enjoying it more if I was more than just a minor fan. It’s interesting and funny, but I doubt even hardcore fans can say much more than that. It’s not making a fence swinging effort to adapt the character to the big screen, and that can either be seen as lazy or admirable, which is precisely the dividing line between how Alan sees himself and how the other characters in the world perceive him. It’s probably as good of a film featuring a character that will probably keep coming back for years to come that one would and should expect it to be. It’s likeable enough to never seem like a let down.
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