The Watchers

The Watchers

Friday, 16 August 2013

Review: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (UK Cert 15)

In The Simpsons’ big screen spin-off, Homer points out, “I can't believe we're paying to see something we get on TV for free!” When a TV series gets its own film, that quote is usually the first thing I think of.  Aside from the money, what’s the point? What am I going to see in a feature film that couldn’t have been shown in one or two episodes? Homer, Marge, Bart and co.’s big screen debut, while no misfire, was basically an extended TV episode. The first X-Files film, while decent enough, felt like an excuse to show some big budget set pieces you wouldn’t have seen in the TV series.

When it was announced that Alan Partridge was to get his own film, being a long-time fan I was ridiculously excited. Then I heard that the film was going to centre on a hostage situation and the cynic in me reared his ugly head. It sounded like the team of writers put ideas into a hat and this is the first one that they picked. Anyone who has the job of transferring a TV series to the cinema has an unenviable task: re-hash the same old material and audiences will wonder why they bothered; try and do something too different and your loyal audience feels pushed out. So how does Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa fare?

The writers (including Alan Partridge’s co-creator Armando Iannucci) have got the balance spot on. Alpha Papa is minute-after-minute of Partridge’s one liners and completely miss the point observations that have made the character such an icon, while also serving up imaginative grand-scale visual gags (this film has one of the funniest opening credits in a long time!).

What helps the film is that we haven’t seen all that much of Alan recently. Apart from the Mid-Morning Matters online series and an appearance on Red Nose Day a few years back, he has been more-or-less absent from our screens. With Alpha Papa, Norwich’s prodigal son gets put under the microscope. Yes, he obsesses over all things trivial, he’s selfish, and just that little bit dull, but he is a man stuck in a rut and waiting for that excuse to turn his life around (that excuse being having a gun held to his head by a crazed Irishman).

It’s plain to see that Steve Coogan relishes playing Alan; there’s so much that an actor can do with the character, but you can’t imagine anyone else playing him. Plenty of the film’s laughs come, not from the dialogue, but from a quick glance or an awkward squirm. Steve Coogan is a master of physical comedy, on a par with John Cleese and Eric Morecambe.

For those who “Smell my cheese!” means nothing to them, is Alpha Papa worth a watch? You can pay your money to see a so-called comedy and feel cheated because all the laughs were in the trailer; with Alan Partridge’s move to the big screen you are almost constantly laughing. The pace, the timing, the observations, and at times the sheer “bonkersness” are as close to perfect as a comedy can get. With The Inbetweeners Movie and now Alpha Papa, British big screen comedy is in an enviable place right now.

5 out of 5


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