ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA
(M, 90 minutes). Opens Thursday.
For a man who claims his greatest comic creation is something of an albatross, Steve Coogan can't seem to leave alter ego Alan Partridge alone. The failed chat-show host persona has returned in many forms during two decades of success on radio and TV, and most recently in print, with his very own memoirs. That his success has been largely confined to his native Britain is no great surprise to those familiar with Partridge's scathingly parochial world view.
Now, he dares to go even further on the big screen, an age-old tradition for British comedies. The host least likely to succeed here presents a graveyard timeslot show for insomniacs. But he quickly finds himself in the midst of a corporate takeover at his local Norwich digital radio station. Change is afoot. And true to form, Partridge will do anything, including ditching a loyal DJ colleague (Colm Meaney), to survive.
Until, that is, his plan massively backfires. Meaney's vengeful, gun-toting figure, who holds the station to ransom, is convincing enough as a villain, in a Dog Day Afternoon sort of way (which it clearly seeks to emulate), as Partridge entertains the crowd outside before being dragged in again as the siege continues.
The biggest shock in all this isn't the true-to-form, small-town humour, more chucklesome than laugh-out-loud (Coogan's longtime collaborator Armando Iannucci is among the hired help, TV's Declan Lowney directs). Rather, it's that Alan is - shock, horror - rather likeable. Listeners enjoy his banter, the staff around the station like him, even management are entertained by the usually bumbling fool.
Could this really be the future for Partridge: from Britain's most tragic host to Norwich's favourite son, a once unthinkable proposition? Or is it simply downsizing, keeping things yokel and local, that may keep Coogan's albatross alive? Whichever way the truth lies, Coogan and co get away with this outing, simply because they don't try too hard.
The plot may lose its way somewhat, and there could have been a more ambitious plan for Alan post-siege, but it's all done with more heart than one would usually associate with the man. Perhaps Coogan, like Partridge, is mellowing with age. Which may not be such a bad thing.
Whatever next for Alan: grandkids?