Review: Alan Partridge – Alpha Papa (2013)

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa - 2013 - 1

Directed by – Declan Lowney
Written by – Peter Baynham, Armando Iannucci & Steve Coogan
Starring – Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Sean Pertwee, Anna Maxwell Martin, Felicity Montagu, Simon Greenall, Phil Cornwall, Darren Boyd & Nigel Lindsay

As soon as this film was announced I was worried. Alan Partridge is one of the greatest comic inventions of all time but, for me, he’s very much a product of his era. He’s a 70s man stuck in the 90s, and that was always the beauty of him. Everything from The Day Today to Knowing Me, Knowing You and the twelve-episode series that these shows spawned is pure gold and will surely be remembered as a pinnacle of British situation comedy. Alas, the Partridge-output since the turn of the century has seen a severe dip in quality; the humour feels dated, the wit has faded and Partridge now feels like a pale imitation of his former self. The Partridgisms no longer feel natural, the situations are increasingly absurd and the character has become much too cynical for his own good.

Alpha Papa, Partridge’s much-awaited big screen outing, is a strange beast in that it acts as a bridge between the classic show and the derivative post I’m Alan Partridge output that I’ve come to hate. It isn’t as clever as Partridge at his best but it’s also nowhere near as unimaginative as anything we’ve seen post-2001 and, as such, it offers an uneasy but entertaining middle-ground between the two eras. Directed by Declan Lowney (Father Ted, Little Britain) and written by the dream-team of Baynham (Brass Eye, Big Train), Iannucci (The Thick of It, Time Trumpet) and Coogan (24 Hour Party People, Philomena), the film follows Partridge as he becomes involved in a heist at the radio station when ex-employee Pat (Meaney; Con Air, Law Abiding Citizen) takes a bunch of people hostage in frustration at losing his job. As chief hostage negotiator, Partridge gets the rare chance to reignite his career after decades in the wilderness but, true to form, he somehow manages to fuck it all up at every given turn.

Now, let’s be clear; Alpha Papa is funny. There are lots of one-liners that are classic Partridge (”they’ve blown me to bits Lynn” being my personal favourite) and the absurdity of the situation never outweighs the banality of Partridge’s entire existence, but it’s just nowhere near as good as I was hoping. Part of the problem is that, like almost all TV-to-film adaptations, it’s just far too long. At 90-minutes, it doesn’t so much feel like 3 episodes of the show as it feels like 1 great episode that has been padded with lots of random little sketches and jokes that don’t fit the overall tone of the final piece. In fact, the first 20 minutes and the final act are brilliant, whereas everything in between feels stodgy, tired and actually quite boring.

However, don’t get me wrong; there are certain aspects of the film that are just as great as classic Partridge. The character of Lynn (Montagu; How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Bridget Jones’s Diary) is still fantastic and Dave Clifton’s (Cornwell; Dead Ringers) long-awaited breakdown is perhaps the funniest thing about the entire film. When Partridge is at his best, a.k.a his most self-serving and his most rancid, he’s an utter joy to watch. Coogan can turn Partridge on and off like a tap and it really shows as, even when the lines are at their most contrived, his performance is just effortlessly good.

Alas some moments of the film are just unbearably cringe-worthy, and not in a “stop getting Bond wrong!” way but in a “oh god, this isn’t remotely funny” way. See, for example, the moment were Partridge ends up being snapped with no pants on by the paparazzi. It’s just… lazy. Similarly, though it’s obviously good to see Michael (Greenall; Saxondale, Wimbledon) again, I hate what they’ve done to his character. Michael used to be a bit thick but ultimately well-meaning; in Alpha Papa he’s just immensely stupid. Lots of comedies that have been dragged well beyond their sell-by-date turn minor characters into caricatures of themselves (the example I always come back to is what has happened to Dave in The Royle Family) but it’s still hugely irritating when it happens.

For me, Alpha Papa is one half of a great film and one half of a “meh” film. For every belly-laugh you get a moment, sometimes just seconds later, that would be much better suited to a BBC3 “comedy”. I’m sure it’ll be worth a rewatch at some point but for now I’m just that little bit ambivalent which, for someone who is a huge fan of classic Partridge, is a real shame.