In this pungently funny media satire, a has-been sees a hostage crisis as a way to get back on television
He's not as well known in the United States as, say, Ricky Gervais‘ David Brent from “The Office,” but Alan Partridge has reigned as one of the great comic creations to come out of the United Kingdom over the last 20 years.
As portrayed by Steve Coogan, Alan is vain, selfish, stupid, status-obsessed, cruel, petty, tasteless and generally insipid — and he's made fans laugh over several BBC television and radio programs, where the character has reached the heights of TV talk show fame and the depths of being a disc jockey out in the provinces for Radio Norwich.
Now Alan Partridge takes on the big screen in “Alan Partridge” which, like the recent “Veronica Mars” movie, doesn't require viewers to be familiar with his previous incarnations. Even if you're meeting Alan for the first time, you'll quickly figure out why he's so hilariously loathsome.
As the film begins, Radio Norwich is in the process of being taken over by a heartless media conglomerate that's looking to make changes to the stodgy old station. Nighttime DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney), who plays to an older demographic, fears that he's on the chopping block, so Alan volunteers to defend his colleague in front of the new management.
When Alan looks at the meeting notes and realizes that the new bosses will sack either Pat or Alan, Alan shifts gears and trash-talks the other host, finally writing “JUST SACK PAT” on their easel pad.
All seems well until the new owners throw a party at the station that night, where Pat shows up with a gun and takes everyone hostage. Ignorant of Alan's betrayal, Pat selects his “good friend” to be his go-between with the police. Alan is both thrilled and terrified to be this close to the action, and he goes from bumbling (he could easily disarm Pat on various occasions but doesn't) to intentionally bumbling, prolonging the siege once the cameras show up, allowing Alan to once again have a national television audience.
Coogan and his team of writers (including “Veep” creator Armando Ianucci) aren't necessarily sentimental about the stodgy brand of radio that Alan and Pat represent — “Question of the hour: Why do people insist on refrigerating their eggs?” — but they're also no fans of the big-money bastards who come in and fire everyone, with one boss actually admiring Alan's heartless exploitation of the hostage situation for his own gain.
Director Declan Lowney is mostly known for British TV, and he brings that same flat aesthetic to bear here; given that most of the movie takes place inside a radio station, with everyone claustrophobically trapped by a disgruntled former employee with a gun, that airlessness actually works to the film's benefit.
Coogan may have scored a hit with the sentimental “Philomena,” but he's much more fun writing and playing characters who do and say the worst possible things at any given moment. And while “Alan Partridge” may not have the richness or scope of his recent collaborations with Michael Winterbottom — giving us films like “Tristram Shandy” and “The Trip,” wherein Steve Coogan plays a jerk named “Steve Coogan” – this is a movie that will charm anyone who likes that stricken look that British people get when they've just stuck their foot in it.
You probably wouldn't want to spend three hours listening to Alan Partridge's drive-time radio broadcast, but this idiotic DJ delivers a solid 90 minutes of cinematic entertainment.