Steve Coogan delivers one of his very best screen performances in Alan Partridge, the long rumored big-screen debut of the notoriously British title character that has been part of Coogan's repertoire on TV and radio for years. The film proves well worth the wait.
Coogan's Partridge is an acid-tongued buffoon, a self-serving coward who gladly throws others under a bus to forward himself or simply keep his job. His loyalty to co-workers is put to the test when a corporation takes over his small radio station and starts sacking people.
After a meeting where Partridge betrays his pal Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) and gets Pat fired, Pat comes back with a shotgun and takes everybody hostage. Alan winds up as an intermediary between the police and Pat, trying to negotiate a way out of a crisis and keep his job at the same time. All the while, Pat doesn't realize Alan is the one who helped get him canned in the first place.
Coogan is always funny in this film. Sure, he got a lot of press for last year's Philomena, and we film lovers dug him in 24 Hour Party People and Tropic Thunder, but this movie is the true showcase of his sharp comic timing. He has a way with smarmy afterthoughts that makes him the king of the wiseasses.
Massive credit goes to director Declan Lowney and his team of writers (which includes Coogan) for making the ancient "hostage crisis" comedy funny again. Remember how much Cadillac Man, with Robin Williams taken hostage by Tim Robbins, sucked?
When Pat goes on his rampage, it's actually quite chilling at first, with shotgun blasts and bruised faces. The humor at times is pitch black, and there's a feeling throughout the movie that Pat could truly lose it and start offing people. But Lowney, Coogan and the crew keep the laughter constant, even when things get dark and ugly.
How Partridge's radio show is depicted in the film is actually quite entertaining, and something I'd happily listen to if it were real. Coogan's banter with Side Kick Simon (Tim Key), his co-host on the show, is killer funny, especially when Simon suggests Judaism and Islam should merge, and you could call it Jis-lam. After introducing a Police song, Coogan responds with "You never, never criticize Muslims—only Christians! And Jews ... a little bit!" before nonchalantly taking a bite out of a big doughnut.
As somebody who did two decades (on and off) in radio, I rank this one along with Howard Stern's Private Parts as movies that best present the industry. Private Parts was made before computers really took over, an unfortunate radio reality that Alan Partridge has a lot of fun with. The movie plays with the fact that old school radio has gone away, to be replaced by robots. The film also has a lot of fun with the pain and tension of corporate takeovers. Oh, if corporate takeovers were only this funny.
When a tethered Partridge comes outside of the radio station to talk with the coppers, it's comic gold. Coogan treats the moment like Partridge is hosting a TV talk show, throwing off one-liners much to the happiness of groupies on the scene. His presentation winds up being an instantly popular viral video with more views than "Fat Woman Falls Down a Hole."
Lowney's film takes stabs at everything from young punk DJs ragging on their elder counterparts to the sort of DJ advertising tricks that radio personalities resort to in order to drive a new car on their meager salaries (Partridge drives around in a Kia with ALAN PARTRIDGE DRIVES THIS KIA SUPPLIED BY FENDALES MOTORS emblazoned on the side).
Oh, how we beleaguered DJs longed for the advertiser-sponsored vehicle we could drive around provided we had daily radio orgasms about its ability to handle turns and its swell control panel. Unfortunately, only the morning guys usually got that sort of treatment. But those assholes had to get up at 4:30 a.m., so I guess the rest of us triumphed in the end.
If you like British humor, this movie will certainly do the trick. Nearly every line of dialogue has something to giggle at, due in large part to Coogan's stellar delivery. In fact, the dialogue is so packed that the film warrants multiple viewings. It's one of those movies where jokes hit you the second and third time around after zipping by you in the first viewing. On top of the dialogue, there's also the requisite random humor and toilet humor that make the Brits so damn good when it comes to laughers.
The film is a cynical beast disguised as a snappily funny rapid-fire comedy, and I love it for many reasons. I'm hoping Alan Partridge represents just the first in a series of Partridge film adventures. TV needs to be skewered next.