Alan Partridge, the British broadcast personality
It's not that Partridge ever really disappears for long. The character has continually resurfaced in various incarnations on radio, then TV. Coogan's had a grand time playing with mass media's proclivities as a sportscaster on radio and the TV news parody "The Day Today," as a TV chat-show host on the spoof "Knowing Me, Knowing You," as a reality-esque sitcom star in "I'm Alan Partridge," and most recently as a radio DJ on the Web series "Mid-Morning Matters," which conveniently returns for a new season soon.
But a film is a different creature. It represents a big move for Partridge, one that Coogan cagily says he didn't want to rush. Perhaps the veteran British comic actor was right. Twenty-plus years of seasoning no doubt contributed to the nearly flawless performance he turns in.
"Alan Partridge" plays to all of Coogan's strengths and all of the character's foibles. The film quickly puts the downward trending 55-ish DJ at the center of a hostage siege at the radio station and thus back as the center of attention, a spotlight he's clearly been missing.
The Web series provides the basics of premise and place. Partridge is living again in his hometown of Norwich, working at radio's North Norfolk Digital, keeping the patter going through the mid-morning hours with the help of Side Kick Simon (Tim Key), a worthy comic foil who spends most of the time with a gun pointed at his head.
The rest of the cast is a blend of old and new, with veteran character actor Colm Meaney joining the frenzy. Or perhaps responsible for it, as the folksy late-night DJ Pat Farrell, who goes off the deep end when the station is sold and he's sacked.
Instead of a dignified departure, the easy-listening Pat trains a rifle on the radio staff — old cronies and new bureaucrats alike — demanding that the cops call Partridge in to serve as siege negotiator. The moment of realization, as Partridge sees his face plastered across one newscast after another, is priceless. But when Partridge truly seizes the siege, things get only better — and worse.
The film is directed by Declan Lowney, who was the hand rocking the cradle for the 2012 British TV movie "Alan Partridge on Open Books With Martin Bryce," a sardonic poke at the literary scene. The film's script, like the cast, is a blend of old and new hands, starting with "Mid-Morning" newcomers Rob Gibbons and Neil Gibbons.
Longtime Coogan collaborator, and one of the original creators of the character, writer-director Armando Iannucci is off working on a little series he created for HBO, the Emmy-winning "Veep" starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tony Hale. But he and Peter Baynham, who joined the Partridge team long ago with the TV series "The Day Today" and has also worked with Sacha Baron Cohen on "Borat" and "Brüno," contributed to the screenplay as well.
And of course, Coogan, who has shown as deft a hand writing drama, sharing an Oscar nomination this year with Jeff Pope for the screen adaptation of
In taking Partridge to the movies, the writers go broader and deeper than they typically do with the story. Before the siege ends, there will be plenty of chances for Partridge to navigate a series of issues including celebrity, envy, friendship, integrity, work, love, death, loyalty, flirting and a few dicey minutes in a latrine. All the important things in life that Partridge finds a way to make amusingly trivial and life changing.
Partridge isn't the only one affected by the media storm. The station itself has been "rebranded" as "Shape" — radio "the way you want it to be." And longtime fans of Partridge will get a kick out of the return of Lynn (Felicity Montagu), Partridge's mousy overworked but devoted assistant whose ego puffs up along with his. Happily, the way the characters and the unfolding crisis collide, it doesn't matter whether you're familiar with the Partridge legacy.
The handheld camera style adds a certain zaniness, with cinematographer Ben Smithard handling the shaking and quaking with a great deal of brio. Never has a slow-speed car chase come with less drama, and that's a compliment. Lowney proves adept at knowing when to let the chaos run wild and when to rein it in.
As much as Coogan defines Partridge, Partridge is also a distinct entity, like and unlike the countless other characters the actor has done over the years. Perhaps it is that balance between knowing cynicism, idiotic slapstick and such strange taste in clothing that enables the actor to slip into character, as he puts it, like an old jacket. When it comes to "Alan Partridge," Coogan certainly wears it well.
MPAA rating: R for language, brief violence and nudity
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Playing: At Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles; Sundance Sunset Cinema, Hollywood