Film Review: Alan Partridge

Radio host tries to defuse a hostage situation in a sharp comedy from Steve Coogan.

Long before Ron Burgundy, Britain's Alan Partridge set the standard for inept, fatuous, conniving media celebrities. His first screen vehicle is a mixed bag of jokes either dazzling or clumsy, all tied to a hostage crisis some viewers here might find off-putting.

Comedian Steve Coogan has been working on the Partridge character for over 20 years. Partridge has been a TV sports reporter, talk-show host, best-selling author, and sitcom star. Alan Partridge finds him co-hosting "Mid-Morning Matters" for North Norfolk Digital, a small-market radio station being taken over by the giant Gordale Media.

When restructuring threatens Partridge's job, he turns on colleague Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney), host of a long-running late-night show. The laid-off Farrell responds with a shotgun at a Gordale launch party, taking a dozen hostages.

Farrell mistakenly thinks Partridge is an ally, and asks him to negotiate with the police. But Partridge makes so many missteps that the hostage situation spirals out of control, turning into a media sensation.

Much of the film takes place inside North Norfolk (rechristened Shape, "the way you want to be"), a collection of drab, cheerless offices and studios. When the movie finally shifts outside during its climactic chase, Norfolk and its environs prove even more depressing.

Part of Partridge's charm is his dogged belief that he is a star, all evidence to the contrary. He will do anything to get ahead, except put himself on the line. No matter how bad circumstances get, he will push on in a smarmy voice even as his words turn into nonsense. It's not a question of when Partridge will insult and betray his friends, but how spectacularly his efforts will misfire.

Coogan stays completely in character, no matter how feckless or idiotic Partridge becomes. Meaney is an unexpectedly strong anchor for the movie, which gradually (and awkwardly) mutates from show-biz satire to thriller pastiche.

The ramshackle plot includes some choice bits for Partridge's radio partner, Side Kick Simon (Tim Key); his put-upon assistant, Lynn (Felicity Montagu), and recovering addict Dave Clifton (Phil Cornwell).

A mad killer stalking officemates is not the easiest premise for a comedy, especially one that aims for a certain level of realism. Some violent scenes here leave a queasy taste, but then so do Partridge's cruel, wildly inappropriate rants.

He's also got an endless supply of one-liners and asides, some so deeply dependent on gossip or local events that they might be unfathomable to non-residents. When Partridge, in his inimitable North Norfolk voice, introduces a song from "soft-rock cocaine enthusiasts Fleetwood Mac," you'll either grin or scratch your head.

No matter, another joke is just seconds away, like how Partridge insists he's not selling his soul, he's just going to "lend it to Gordale Media on a long-term basis—for cash." (The movie was released in Great Britain last summer as Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa.)

Click here for cast & crew information.