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Alan Partridge
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by Jay Seaver

"Okay, maybe some good has come from broadcast consolidation."
4 stars

Based on the original British name for this movie ("Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa"), I expected it to be doing more - for instance, for there to be some sort of subplot about Partridge and his kids. Fortunately, that's not the case; instead of trying to do too much, it lets a bunch of funny people make the most of one crazy situation.

That crazy situation? A siege, with recently laid off radio host Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) holding the rest of the station hostage - that is, except for Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan), another host whom Pat insists on having as his go-between with the police. Partridge is happy to do so - less out of any sort of innate bravery than the fact that his show is probably next on the chopping block after Pat's, there are better jobs out there, and a little extra publicity never hurts.

When someone doesn't recognize Alan during all this, he's hurt, saying it hasn't been that long since he was on the telly. That's just about the only obvious indication that Steve Coogan has been playing Partridge off and on for roughly twenty years, making this vapid creation the signature role of an actor best known in America for snobbish intellectuals. No previous knowledge is necessary - I've never caught any of Coogan's previous TV shows - which is probably a good decision. For all that this is Coogan's character, he's also kind of universal in that every area probably has a radio personality or ten who have stuck around forever by dint of being familiar despite not actually offering that much once you try to figure out their appeal. And yet, for all that the likes of Alan Partridge and Pat Farrell are eminently replaceable, they gain our sympathy in party because we know that the consolidation of radio stations that is apparently as prevalent in the UK as it is in America, and we all know that the efficiencies and economies of scale driving it offer listeners very little, and take away what charms these guys have (I idly wonder if the Alan Partridge franchise provided a satirical-yet-telling history of the British broadcast business over the last twenty years).

What does someone like Alan Partridge offer? Pure, empty-headed foolishness, with Coogan and his co-writers finding a level of pomposity and selfishness that is funny because the general harmlessness of it counteracts just how unearned it is; even when Alan is actually active, he's so clumsy that it's hard to give him credit. He's ridiculous, but Coogan knows how to use Alan's blankness to make things seem more absurd. There's a little bit of that to how Colm Meaney plays Pat, albeit with enough substance to make him dangerous. Meaney is at his best when showing a short of working-class charm, and he comes off as the friendliest armed hostage-taker you can imagine, just a man who loves his old job and can't think of a better way to continue doing it. They've got a capable cast to play off, with Tim Key getting the most time and the best chance at fun reactions as "Sidekick Simon".

They've got a good string of jokes to work with, with a team of five writers making sure that no minute goes by without some sort of gag coming into play, with director Declan Lowney staging things so that funny things are occasionally happening in the background as well as up front. There are some downright odd moments, but Lowney and company never get too fancy, just keeping the camera on what's going on and not trying to draw attention to how this is a movie rather than TV, though it never looks cheap. There's a bunch of fun goofing on both radio and siege movies, and while just about every character is kind of dumb in his or her own way, the movie seldom outright mocks them or makes watching what's goign on frustrating. It's go a few bits that clunk, but for the most part, it sets gags up and quickly follows through.

"Alan Partridge" does show its TV roots in a few ways - it's broad and simple in concept in a way that is a lot easier when the people involved know a character works and just needs a story's worth of jokes rather than an arc. American viewers might not necessarily want to dig up twenty years of Coogan playing Partridge after seeing this, but they'll almost certainly enjoy how Coogan and company have got this sort of comedy down to a science.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25584&reviewer=371
originally posted: 05/18/14 21:57:49
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Palm Springs International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Palm Springs International Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  04-Apr-2014 (R)
  DVD: 10-Jun-2014

UK
  07-Aug-2013 (15)

Australia
  24-Oct-2013




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