The thing about diminishing expectations is that after a certain point they cease to be worth meeting.
After almost two decades on and off the TV, Alan Partridge, Steve Coogan’s most popular creation, has made his way to the big screen. Less outrageous than any of Sacha Baron Cohen alter-egos, Partridge is the perfect encapsulation of British small-mindedness. A smug, middle-class Daily Mail reader with a stagnant career as a radio DJ, the character’s inherent humor comes from his utter mundanity.
As such, when a disgruntled former employee Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) takes hostages at the newly rebranded station and Alan finds himself in the role of unlikely mediator, the race is on to inconspicuously subvert as many American actioner cliches as possible.
Explosions? None (well, a few, small ones, if you count the firing of a shotgun). Sex? Just about, if you count copping off with the bird who played Rose West in Appropriate Adults in a disabled toilet. Car chases? Yes! Albeit in a yellow broadcasting van with a squadron of police cars keeping leisurely pace behind it.
What you get out of Alpha Papa (even the title mocks the ostentatiousness of our Yankee brethren) will obviously very much depend on how funny you find Alan. With his habit of making unguarded and unsolicited confessions on such topics as his aggressive athletes foot, Alan is endearing in much the way that Ricky Gervais’ David Brent is in that, for all his ego and posturing, he’s just a bit of a pillock. As with most modern British comedies, character-propelled awkwardness is the order of the day.
Armando Iannuci, the man behind both radio programme On the Hour, which introduced Partridge to the airwaves, and The Thick of It was involved in writing the film. Unfortunately, Alpha Papa is no In The Loop: without the imaginative invective to leaven it – my personal favorite involved referring to an unfortunate MP as a “Nazi Julie Andrews” – it all feels a bit, well… flat.
Scenes of Alan vamping in the car to Roachford or panickedly yelling, “It’s a shooter!” are entertaining, but the whole things feel like a TV special rather than an out-and-out cinematic adventure. Sorry to count pennies, but on a budget of around £4 million, it just feels there should have been more.
Knowingness is not a substitute for genuine drama, and, though the film does achieve the occasional moment of genuine tension based around exactly how nuts Farrell is/might, but overall Alpha Papa lacks in ambition. The lack of something is not a substitute for the thing itself – not blowing a bus up only matters if it feels like there was ever a threat of you doing it in the first place.
Brought down by its own self-depreciation, the film ends on a bit of a cop out. Alan can’t change, so there’s no sense of closure, and the film can’t compete with the likes of RED 2 and ever become a full-on satire of anything. It’s okay to dream small, but when it’s this low-key it becomes a bit depressing.