Steven Coogan brings his greatest character from TV to film with "Alan Partridge." Credit: Magnolia Pictures
'Alan Partridge' Director: Declan Lowney Stars: Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney Rating: R 3 (out of 5) Globes
Alan Partridge, the boorish egomaniac played by his co-creator, Steve Coogan, was born on radio. He proceeded to three different TV shows, a web show, numerous guest appearances and a very funny “memoir.” In other words, he’s a survivor, able to travel between mediums and live — if not exactly mature — over 20-plus years. He’s comedy’s Antoine Doinel, the character Francois Trufaut followed for two decades, starting with “The 400 Blows.”
But film is a tougher medium than most. Just ask the numerous musicians who’ve tried to cross into it. The new movie, called simply “Alan Partridge” in America, is a very good, not great addition to the Partridge canon, one smart enough to know not to aim too high, but one which still aims a touch too low. A Partridge movie has always made sense; he’s a great character, whether he’s hosting a disastrous chat show (“Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge”) or seen in “real life” (“I’m Alan Partridge”). And while some of the film ideas floated over the last decade or so — Alan goes to America, Alan fights the Taliban — haven’t been too hot, neither is Alan starring in a riff on “Airheads.”
“Alan Partridge” is still very funny, though, and does enough with its dubious premise. If you don’t recall “Airheads,” the 1993 Brendan Fraser-Adam Sandler-Steve Buscemi vehicle, it involves a slapdash hostage situation at a radio station. Here, the perpetrator is Phil (Colm Meaney), a folksy DJ run canned by the station’s new, heartless digital overlords. Partridge gets involved as an interloper, first unwittingly, then very wittingly, once he realizes he’s becoming a media star. After all, he’s always wanted to be back on television, ever since that time he accidentally shot one of his chat show guests straight through the heart.
But this isn’t a nasty satire, or even a nasty character study. Over the years, Partridge has softened, if a just a tad. Once evil and venal, prone to tantrums and far right bigotry, he’s now settled into the mediocrity of middle age. He’s never remotely lovable; he’s still too self-interested and evil. But you can sense Coogan and his four credited writers holding back a bit, both on Partridge and the plot, which at times threatens to segue into crazier territory, but always retreats to something safer.
This can’t be stressed enough: This is a very funny film. Coogan and company know Partridge well enough that he can just spit out one-liners without breaking a sweat. (“Who needs Jesus,” he spouts while DJing. “To me, Neil Diamond is the real King of the Jews.”) Whether this is a comfortable intro for newbies remains to be seen; this was made largely for the fans, which is to say England, where he’s a god. (America flipped for “The Office”’s David Brent, Partridge's most clear imitator — or rather, they flipped for Michael Scott.) But if it gets anyone to plow through the extensive, even better Partridge back catalogue, then it did its noble job.