Alan Partridge is a winsome ignoramus who deserves to have a great comedy built around him. This ain't it.
Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge character, while only well-known in America to diehard BBC fanatics, is an amusing creation that should spark laughter even in those unfamiliar. A bumbling, egotist, doofus radio DJ who loves his craft so much he would sacrifice his friends for it (he does), Partridge (who Coogan has been portraying for over 20 years in the U.K.) feels like a mix between David Brent and Mr. Bean, relentlessly self-serving and hilariously susceptible to predicaments of the awkward/slapstick variety. Alan Partridge, directed by Declan Lowney and co-written by Coogan, while respectably funny, isn’t equipped with enough material to fill out its 90-minute runtime adequately, feeling more like an elongated sketch show bit.
The film follows Alan, a former big-time sports broadcaster now relegated to a regional radio show in Norwich, as he fights to save his job: The radio station has been bought out by new owners looking to clean out the older, out-of-touch DJs and replace them with hipper, and in this case douche-ier, young gabbers. When his friend and now ex-DJ Pat (the reliable Colm Meaney), a casualty of the radio re-branding, goes cuckoo and creates a hostage situation at the station (armed with a rifle), Alan finds himself as the negotiator between Pat and the police. More importantly, he finds himself an irresistible opportunity to step into the national spotlight once again. The film unmistakably resembles Airheads, but with an older, tidier cast of characters.
With his co-workers’ lives in the balance, Alan, the mouthy coward that he is, plays both sides, simultaneously attempting to abate the hostages’ panic, convince Pat that he’s still a friend (even though he’s mostly responsible for Pat being fired in the first place), and show off his duncish grin to the masses via news cameras covering the crime scene. When Pat ties a cord around Alan’s waist and sends him outside to talk to the police, Alan does little to alleviate the situation, squandering the precious negotiation time on making his adoring (idiotic) fans in the crowd giggle with lame jokes and silly dance moves.
Though the plot is too thin to make it memorable in any sense, it serves its primary function of laying up funny situations for Coogan to mess around in and spread his comedic wings. And he really does soar, a veteran of the comedy game (though he’s shown the true breadth of his range recently in Philomena and What Maisie Knew) who always knows to zig when we predict a zag, keeping us on our toes with over-the-line awkwardness and awfulness. The unbridled idiocy Coogan captures with Alan has clearly been honed for years.
The supporting cast aren’t as funny as Coogan (Meaney comes close), but that’s not the major problem with their roles in the movie. They’re actually all fine actors who deliver good on the task of making Coogan, the main attraction, look good. Tim Key is a standout as Alan’s radio sidekick, and Monica Dolan, who plays Alan’s office booty call, makes every scene with Coogan deliciously irksome. What’s working against the film is that the secondary characters are just as goofy and cartoonish as Partridge, leaving no one to be the straight man underlining just how out-0f-this-world bonkers Coogan is acting. Too many Laurels, not enough Hardys.
The most impressive thing about the Partridge character is that he constantly dares you to hate his guts, spouting distasteful, carefully worded quips rapid-fire…and yet, he’s somehow charming in a strange, undeniable way. He’s winsome ignoramus who deserves to have a great comedy built around him. It’s a shame–Alan Partridge ain’t it.