“I’m not going to sell my soul, only rent it.”
With these immortal words, Steve Coogan, fresh off his dramatic turn in “Philomena,” brings back the funny with a vengeance in “Alan Partridge.” Partridge is a fictional character portrayed by Coogan and created by Coogan, Armando Iannucci and other writers for the BBC Radio 4 program, “On the Hour.” Directed by Declan Lowney and co-written by Coogan, Neal Gibbons, Bob Gibbons, Armando Iannucci and Peter Baynham, the film expands on the activities of Alan and his colleagues in their Norwich, England radio station.
The station is under new management and has implemented many changes to modernize its format. Jobs are on the line, especially those of Alan and Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney). These two are the station’s elder statesmen (by age, certainly not by behaviour) and their respective programs don’t reach the demographics the new owners are after. Pat feels particularly vulnerable and asks Alan to plead his case for him before management. The rest, as they say, is history.
What begins as an ordinary work day for Alan changes drastically when he gets to the station and just sees empty offices (for lovers of film, think of Robert Redford’s “Three Days of the Condor” if it was a comedy). By the sound of gunshots he realizes that something is amiss and runs back outside. He learns from the police that his colleagues have been taken hostage by a former co-worker who was recently fired. As the one employee not in captivity, Alan is asked by the police if he is willing to be a negotiator with them. What the police don’t know is that in Alan resides the most egotistical, self-important, self-serving man on the planet, albeit one huge scaredy cat, too. The chance to be part of a big story is something he can’t resist, regardless of the circumstances. And so, into the lion’s den he goes, the worse negotiator in all of movie history.
Coogan is a comedic acting genius. Watching him “dance” in his car as he sings to the music is hysterical and just sheer entertainment. And Alan’s dialogue is done to manic perfection. With my American ear, sometimes Coogan’s accent was an impediment, but it didn’t matter. I more than got the gist.
“Alan Partridge” features a terrific supporting cast, especially Felicity Montagu as Alan’s long-suffering assistant, Lynn, and Tim Key as Alan’s co-presenter, Sidekick Simon. Finally there is Colm Meaney as Pat. In Meaney, Coogan has the perfect comedic foil. Ordinarily Meaney might be the manic actor, but in “Alan Partridge” he’s dialed it back a notch and it works perfectly.
There are so many funny bits too numerous to mention. But my favorite on-going gag is the introduction of the helmet holster, which has to be seen to be believed. Along with the gags are some absolutely hysterical bits of dialogue. What will be especially amusing for American audiences is the writers’ homage to Aaron Sorkin and “The West Wing.” It’s unexpected and quite brilliant.
It must be noted that much of “Alan Partridge” is predicated upon an act of violence. For some that might lessen the enjoyment. The U.S. has experienced some terrible workplace situations along with a spate of school shootings. I happened to see this film the week of the most recent shooting at a high school near Denver. So, in all honesty, I was initially taken aback at what was being played for laughs. But once I got past that, I relaxed and joined in the fun.
With the hoopla surrounding “Anchorman 2,” “Alan Partridge” might get lost in the comedic shuffle. That would be a shame. For all of its zaniness, “Alan Partridge” is a smartly funny movie…one worth seeking out.