The thing is, I love the character of Alan Partridge so much it may well be that, when it came to this film, I left my critical faculties outside the screening room, possibly somewhere along Wardour Street. If you see them, might you return them? I would hate them to fall into the wrong hands, or be sold to the highest bidder. Anthony Lane of the New Yorker, for example, has always been after my critical faculties and the late film critic Roger Ebert was once quoted as saying he’d pay anything for them; anything. Luckily, he was American, and they would never be allowed to leave the country, but you see what I’m saying? Why it’s important I get them back?
Anyway, Alan Partridge and, OK, if I were in possession of my critical faculties, I might say Alpha Papa is a 30-minute TV show stretched out to 90 minutes but, because I’m not, I can make like I didn’t notice, not that I’d have cared in any case. Plus, the writers have tried to oomph it up a notch. Usually, when British television comedies transfer to film, the casts are sent abroad, as if this is the thing that makes everything bigger somehow. The Inbetweeners was sent abroad, as was The Thick of It and although On the Buses was never sent abroad this is only because people didn’t really go abroad then, which is why they went to Butlins, and wouldn’t you know it? Doesn’t Blakey turn up as one of the camp’s security guards? What are the chances of that? So they haven’t made this bigger by sending Alan somewhere, but they have given him a bigger story: a siege. ‘You are the face of this siege,’ Alan is gravely informed at one point. Alan, being Alan, takes this extremely seriously. ‘I am siege-face,’ he concludes, importantly.
As the film opens Alan (as played, deliciously, by Steve Coogan, like you didn’t know) is still the host of Mid-Morning Matters at North Norfolk Digital radio station, along with Sidekick Simon (Tim Key), and he’s still brilliantly engaging with his listeners in his own surreal way, as in: ‘Later, we’ll be taking dedications from anyone who has been denied planning permission and asking which is the worst monger: fish, iron, rumour or war?’
However, all is not well, as the station has just been taken over by a conglomerate, and Pat (Colm Meaney), who presents the late-night slot, gets the chop. Pat does not take kindly to this, returns with a gun, and takes everyone hostage. Alan is appointed negotiator between the police and Pat, albeit rather unwillingly, because he’s a coward and because it’s his fault Pat got the sack in the first place. But then Alan’s fame starts to grow and, who knows, when it’s all over, might he be returned to the flagship breakfast show?
You know, the way I look at it, you can throw anything at Alan and, so long as he stays in character, it’s all going to be fine (by which I mean: funny) and, in that sense, it is all fine. I laughed out loud several times. He is a genius creation; just wrong enough and inappropriate enough and narcissistic enough to be comic, but never so wrong he’s entirely unbelievable or unsympathetic. There are killer lines — ‘You must never criticise Muslims! Only Christians. And Jews, a little bit...’ — and the most satisfying attention to detail, like his driving gloves — ‘the string backs give you a bit of extra purchase’ — which say as much about his character as anything else ever could. There’s an attempt to ramp up his vulnerability and add emotional depth, particularly in his scenes with his assistant Lynn (hooray! Felicity Montagu is back!), which, if I’d had my critical faculties, I might have found just a little bit forced, just as I might have thought it wasn’t necessary for Alan to lose his trousers or for it all to climax with a car chase (of sorts)...Oh, to hell with all that. This did exactly what I wanted it to do, more or less. Go see it, and if you happen to be in the Soho area, please do look out for my critical faculties. What if Mark Kermode were to snaffle them up? Where would we all be then?