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New Release Review - Alan Partidge: Alpha Papa

Big screen outing for the cult BBC character.

Directed by: Declan Lowney
Starring: Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Sean Pertwee, Monica Dolan, Felicity Montagu


When North Norfolk Digital radio station is bought out by a corporation looking to target a new trendy audience, DJ Alan Partridge (Coogan) discovers he is on a shortlist of two DJ's, one of which is to be sacked. Saving his own job, he encourages the new owners to remove his fellow DJ Pat Farrell (Meaney). Farrell leaves his job in the naive belief that Partridge pleaded his case. That night, at the launch party for the rebranded Shape FM, Farrell arrives with a shotgun, taking the staff hostage. Partridge escapes but is requested by the police to re-enter the station premises in an attempt to talk Farrell into surrendering. Seeing this as an opportunity to get his face in the public eye, Partridge accepts, causing a media frenzy.
You can tell the state of the mainstream British film industry by the type of films they produce at a given time. During the seventies, UK commercial film was at its lowest ever point, with a rash of low budget horror and crime films supplemented by adaptations of TV sitcoms. We're told Britain's film industry is in a very healthy state now yet look at the films it's producing: low budget horror and crime films supplemented by adaptations of TV sitcoms. The difference is, in the seventies, the horror and crime flicks were generally quite good, often brilliant, whereas now, with very few exceptions, they're awful. The TV adaptations of the seventies were terrible, however, as are their modern counterparts.
The sitcom adaptation is a phenomenon strangely unique to Britain. Despite the huge popularity of US sitcoms, Hollywood has resisted offering the likes of 'Friends', 'Seinfeld' or 'Cheers' to paying audiences. Almost every UK sitcom, on the other hand, has found its way to the big screen. The usual cliched approach is to send the cast off on holiday, mining culture clash comedy for all it's worth (which isn't a lot, let's be honest). This approach was used for seventies tripe like 'Holiday on the Buses' and 'Are You Being Served?'. Recently we've seen it reworked for 'Mr Bean's Holiday' and 'The Inbetweeners Movie'. Even 'The Thick of It's big screen spin-off, 'In the Loop', sent its main character to Washington DC. 40 years ago, the world was a much bigger place but today there's very little cultural difference between Britain and any other part of the world so it's bizarre how this plot device is still being rolled out. 
Thankfully, 'Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa' stays firmly rooted in Norwich, but still falls into the traps of the TV adaptation. Almost every sitcom has had a hostage-taking episode at some point in its run and this is the basis for what little plot there is here. This might work nicely for a half-hour episode but there's not enough material to stretch to a 90 minute feature. There are some very funny lines but, for me at least, that's not enough to keep me interested. The biggest problem with dropping a TV character into a movie is the character arc, or rather lack thereof. On a TV show, the main character's arc develops over several years (assuming the show stays on air long enough) but remains in stasis in each individual episode. Usually the character won't undergo a cathartic change until the final episode (eg. Richard Kimble clears himself of his wife's murder, thus no longer being a fugitive). In a film, however, the character arc has to be completed in one story block and this causes major problems when adapting a TV show, whose character you can't really change if you want to keep the franchise alive. As a result, there's little in the way of plot or story in 'AP:AP'.
In most of the best sitcoms, it's the supporting characters who really make the show. Imagine 'Frasier' without Niles, 'Cheers' without Cliff, or 'The Larry Sanders Show' without Hank. 'Alan Partridge' is all too reliant on its title character and, with all the comedy coming from Coogan's dialogue, at times this film resembles a stand-up show rather than a movie. If you're a diehard fan of Coogan's creation, this might be enough for you but casual viewers will likely find it tiresome.
5/10


Eric Hillis