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Review: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

The transition onto the silver screen isn't entirely seamless, but there are enough classic Partridgeisms to appeal to fans both old and new.

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alanpartridge Director: Declan Lowney
Starring: Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Nigel Lindsay
Length: 90 minutes

Making a feature-length film out of a sitcom is an opportunity to create a situation that would just be too big and too spectacular to fit into a single episode. It is an opportunity to put the characters into environments the fans have never seen them in, and revel in the abundance of hilarious circumstances that could materialise. The Inbetweeners Movie pitches it perfectly, where a clubbing holiday places the four lads in unfamiliar territory while retaining the TV show's consistently relatable teenage humour. Yet going too far can break the spirit of the small screen, with The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse in particular being guilty of overreaching and overcomplicating a tried-and-tested formula.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa sees Steve Coogan's golden alter-ego - and Norfolk's most cherished celebrity - drafted in to quell a hostage crisis that he partly caused, after recommending North Norfolk Digital's new owners to fire fellow presenter Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) as part of the radio station's restructure. A grounded yet sufficiently sensational setting should be cause enough for an array of amusing predicaments, without getting ahead of itself. Of course Alan is no stranger to violence or the Metropolitan Police, having once shot a man through the heart on live television, some time before being caught attempting to steal a traffic cone.

Yet in this regard Alpha Papa seems to fall short. There should be a lot more original material to be harvested but the situation isn't really capitalised upon, with writers Coogan, Armando Iannucci, Peter Baynham and Neil and Rob Gibbons perhaps guilty of being excessively cautious. Indeed we are denied the experience of as wide a range of Partridge's personality as we would expect. In the film there's hardly a glimpse of "Norfolk's Maddest Man," but the real loss is never seeing Alan as the 'normal' one which, in his TV shows, has yielded some of his greatest moments. There is simply something beautiful about hearing Alan Partridge shout "You're a mentalist!" and being completely correct in doing so. The absence of supporting characters with real personality is disappointing, especially the police officers who are, by and large, absolutely soulless, making Lynn and Michael's presence all the more crucial. Alan just thrives off people he can genuinely look down his nose at.

To make up for this, we are given a double dose of his cringeworthy, selfish side. That's not such a bad thing when all is said and done, because for the most part, that is the Alan we all know and love. As Gordale Media boss Jason Cresswell (Nigel Lindsay) puts it: "He's treated this whole crisis like a business opportunity," which is exactly what we expect of him. For seasoned fans there are throwbacks to previous events, including his battle with obesity and the wife who left him for a fitness instructor. On top of that are the jokes which define him, such as a commercial contract with Kia and a superb lip-synched performance of Roachford's 1988 song 'Cuddly Toy'.

Alpha Papa's greatest strength is the detail and delivery of Partridge's dialogue, which is as genius as it ever has been, constantly excusing and justifying himself far beyond anybody's interests: "I've fired several rifles. At funfairs. And won prizes. But I've never fired one in anger. Or at a cat." As always, the North-Norfolk DJ is indefatigably quotable, making enjoyment of the film last long after it has finished.

One particular obstacle the writers deserve credit for overcoming is making the film funny enough for those unfamiliar with Alan Partridge, without straying far from his unique personality. A popular Twitter hashtag, #AccidentalPartridge, draws attention to the humour of otherwise uninteresting tweets, simply because they sound like something AP would say. This suggests there is a very specific brand of comedy which takes a certain understanding of the character, and although this will always make watching Partridge funnier, there is no prerequisite. In fact some of the funniest moments in the film are rather more slapstick, but Coogan's expert delivery ensures these are by no means designed for cheap laughs.

It seems like Alpha Papa aimed for something spectacular before deciding against being too adventurous, which sounds a lot like Alan Partridge himself. But as such, it's AP to the core, splendidly written, and never goes too long without something to laugh about. What a film it could've been though.

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