The media arena is a place ripe for comedy and the British comedy “Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa” digs for gold. Both a comedic hostage situation and a satirical look at radio, it stars Steve Coogan in a role he has successfully played in the U.K since 1991, both on radio and on T.V. If you are unfamiliar with the character, no worries: the many writers involved, including Coogan and comedy genius Armando Iannucci, make sure newcomers will laugh from the minute they meet Partridge at work behind the microphone.
Directed by Declan Lowney, the film is set in the town of Norfolk where radio host Alan Partridge works alongside a colourful cast of employees. The station, North Norfolk Digital, has been recently bought by a multinational corporation intend on making changes and curtaining redundancies. Fellow host Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) is rightfully afraid this means someone is about to get fired and asks Alan to go speak to the bigwigs upstairs to put in a good word for him.
Demonstrating a high level of physical and verbal clumsiness, Alan does defend Pat only to backfire once he realizes the board are considering firing Alan as well. With his job on the line, he throws Pat under the bus and does everything to avoid him as he packs his things at the end of the day. Unfortunately Pat doesn’t take the firing too well. During an office party he comes back with a rather large rifle to hold the station hostage. Believing Alan is his only friend, he demands the police sends him in as a negotiator.
Through each of these situations you keep seeing Alan’s ego inflate. Thinking the hostage negotiation would only entail talking to Pat over the phone, he gladly accepts believing it could make him a hero. He hesitates a lot more once he realizes it means actually going into the station to be face-to-face with Pat and his gun. Alan fantasizes about being a manly man to be admired, but he would rather avoid any risk that would place him in actual danger. A great recurring gag is the many times he has a chance to grab Pat’s gun, but is too scared to take the risk. At one point Pat even thanks him for not grabbing it.
As the siege lingers on and the news media gathers outside, there is a whiff of “Dog Day Afternoon” here, only it is played for laughs. Now in control of the station Pat continues his show while the entire countryside is listening. Even though he is being held hostage, one of the executives wonders how high the ratings are getting. Meanwhile Alan keeps trying to spin the situation to his advantage, taking a break from his negotiating duties to crack jokes at the crowd. Even his mousy assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu) gets to bask in the limelight when a camera crew covers her in makeup for an interview.
As the title says, this is Alan Partridge’s story and it is easy to understand the longevity of the character. He is not a bad man per say, but he is slightly racist, quite vain, and with pretty low morals. Also, for a guy working in radio he has an uncanny ability to talk himself into a corner. More than once he starts off on what he believes is an inspiring career anecdote only for someone to tell to get to the point already. This might not be the most pleasant guy to work with, but man is he funny to both watch and hear.
This is a very British comedy, with plenty of absurd moments amidst a very serious crisis and it works very well. How many hostage situations have you seen where the madman with a gun gives his hostages an hour to come up with a radio jingle? The result alone is worth watching Alan Partridge’s foray into the big screen.
(“Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa” is available on DVD and Blu-Ray and is streaming on Netflix.)