(Declan Lowney, 2013)
The opening fifteen minutes of Coogan's first big-screen Alan Partridge production are the highlight of the film. They depict Partridge, still every inch the pumped-up, insecure, awkwardly semi-aware "presenter" bore familiar from several classic UK tv series in his natural environment; presenting an afternoon music & chat radio show on Norfolk radio while living in Norwich. The show sounds abysmal but is beautifully observed, Partridge joshing and judging his way through it alongside a sheepishly wry sidekick, playing classic hits and making dreadful puns, bantering with callers while his younger, hipper co-workers mock him behind his back.
This material is so good because it gets right to the core of what makes Partridge such a joy: the minute attention to human foibles, pomposity and prejudice. Coogan knows people, and Partridge allows him to move between sharp caricature and agonising realism with dazzling fluidity. This is the appeal of teh tv shows and its the appeal of the early stages of this film.
The problem with Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is that sooner or later, an actual plot has to kick in. In this case its a plot including an armed siege, police SWAT teams and Partridge plunged in at the deep end. And it's not bad. It remains funny throughout, no matter how silly the storyline gets, with a couple of set-pieces that showcase Partridge at his best (worst?): his peacock act once he realises he has an audience outside the siege, for instance, and his rambling story about karaoke and retitling Brian Adams "Summer of '69" "Summer of '29". It is rare to see Coogan in such a straight-ahead comedic role as this in cinema, but here he gurns and grimaces and pulls faces throughout, and his judgement is usually terrific about what he can make work.
The rest of the cast is solid, the plotting workable, and the direction no more than efficient, but none of that really matters: they all exist to support Coogan in delivering his greatest creation in a vehicle for cinema, and it just about works.