Change is afoot at North Norfolk Digital. Under the ownership of Gordale Media, it’s about to transform into a newer, sleeker station — one which has no room for a country-and-western playing throwback like Pat Farrell (Meaney), who is promptly sacked. When a dangerously distraught, shotgun-wielding Pat holds the staff hostage, only one man can help save the day (and maybe also his career): the host of Mid-Morning Matters, Alan Partridge (Coogan).
A Brief History Of Alan: radio/TV sports-desk reporter; BBC chat show host; DJ on Radio Norwich; ‘star’ of webcam ‘broad’casts during his Mid-Morning Matters show on North Norfolk Digital. The dominant dynamic in 21 years of Partridge has been contraction. Since his chat-show heyday, his frame has always shrunk. And yet here he is at the (air-quote) multiplex (close air-quote), on some of the very same screens that once hosted Inception — and perhaps, in a few rare cases, even The Spy Who Loved Me.
Alan is not a character who naturally suggests himself as filmic (although there is a tinge of Mike Leigh). His move to the big screen, complete with gun-toting action (so to speak), could almost be seen as a betrayal of his Alanic essence: a bit naff, congenitally petty, utterly mundane. This is a man who, for a romatic tryst, once took his just-fired receptionst (he hadn’t told her yet) to an owl sanctuary. Yet, in a genre that’s bottlenecking with post-frat try-hard lewd-outs and twisting itself in knots trying to do something interesting with the rom-com, Alpha Papa feels fundamentally fresh.
On the march to expand Alan’s territory, there have been some mis-steps — the pants-down and shit-in-a-lunchbox gags belong in an American Pie movie. But these are minor stumbles. For the most part, Alpha Papa is caffeinated hilarity, offering a wealth of eminently repeatable punchlines (“Jislam”, “jingle genocide”, “Yes, that is my damn todger”), strong foil-work from the stalwart Colm Meaney, and welcome returns by Alan’s harried PA Lynn (Felicity Montagu), one-time on-air rival DJ Dave Clifton (Phil Cornwell) and his simpleton only-friend Michael (Simon Greenall).
Most significantly, it provides a masterclass in physical character comedy courtesy of the Alan himself: Steve Coogan. Every perfectly judged little awkward facial tic, every precisely delivered wallyish gaffe, every knocked-out-the-park moment of misplaced exasperation at the muddling of Middle England will earn the film the multiple viewings it so deserves. Turns out the big screen needed more naffness, pettiness and mundanity. Not to mention virtuoso Roachford mime-alongs. Kiss his face.
Ruddy hilarious. Just what big-screen comedy needed.