You could say Alan Partridge was made for the Internet Age. The British comedy persona, a disc jockey from Norfolk and disastrous one-time BBC chat presenter, is a real new media junkie. Pushing sixty at this point, Partridge has relaunched himself on the latest platform every chance he can get. First, he broadcast sports on the radio show On the Hour in 1991. Then he became a television star in the mid-nineties and early aughts with Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge (1994) and I’m Alan Partridge (1997, 2002). In recent years he embraced the webisode, enjoying a renaissance in the ten-minute series Mid Morning Matters on Youtube. Other than Vine, film was the next logical wave. So why can’t Alan take the movies, too?
That the character’s big-screen debut Alan Partridge doesn’t quite work is a curious phenomenon given the all-star team behind this year’s reboot. Steve Coogan, the man behind the signature curled lip, belongs to that rare species of comedian who just keeps getting better as he expands his range. Few performers have such an enviable recent career, which has hopskotched from viral comedic performances (Tropic Thunder, The Trip) to Oscar-nominated dramatic writing (Philomena). Coogan has never had juicier dialogue to work with, either, thanks to a pair of bright-eyed new writing partners, Neil and Rob Gibbons. All together with returning Partridge scribes Peter Baynham and Armando Iannucci, the four have contrived a scenario that restricts the action to Patridge’s bread and butter, the Norwich radio station and its environs. The rest, though, is straight out of Hollywood.
Something like Dog Day Afternoon set in Norfolk, Alan Partridge joins the heist film with the office comedy in an infusion of genre interests on par with the blockbuster comedies that have succeeded so smashingly at the box office of late. The film opens like a Mid Morning Matters episode, but pulls that rug out rather quickly. Relegated to an unglamorous time slot, divorced and suffering from a nasty case of the midlife crisis, Partridge once again finds himself at the bottom of the media pile at his job at North Norfolk Digital.
When the corporate giant Gordale Media buys the station, it looks like Partridge has lost all hope of landing the coveted breakfast slot. Gone is the local character, the Fleetwood Mac, and the older staff all in the name of promoting the new corporate brand, “Shape: The Way You Want It.” However, Partridge perceives which way the wind is blowing. He pre-empts getting the sack by throwing old-timer Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) under the bus. “What do you do with bullies?” he tells his long-suffering assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu, making a welcome return), “You make friends with them so they bully someone else.”
Pat does not intend to be bullied, however, or go out with the customary bowed head and cardboard box. Enacting the deranged revenge fantasy of the fired, he lays siege to the entire radio station with a shotgun and takes the staff hostage. To Partridge’s dismay, the Norwich police enlist him to go into the field as their mouthpiece and determine Pat’s motive. What’s a self-aggrandizing deejay to do? Make a business opportunity out of the situation, of course. Weaseling his way into Pat’s bitter broadcasts, Partridge uses Pat’s trust to rebrand himself as a radio journalist from the front of a siege. If Partridge weren’t pushing 60, he might be live-Tweeting the crisis as well. The Gibbons and director Declan Lowney cook up impressive critiques of corporate takeover from their story’s home base in an obscure Norwich radio station.
Ingenious deployment of Gen Y concerns aside, the film does not stand up to its own moralizing message. Ultimately Alan Partridge struggles under the weight of its own demographic-targeting opportunism. It’s convention in the movie business these days to extend viral web series, sketches, even Twitter accounts, to feature film length to rake in the dollars. It doesn’t mean it suits them. Alan Partridge runs Coogan at the rapid pace of his abbreviated sketches, all while strapping him with the extra weight of carrying the film as both its action hero and comic relief.
While the film preaches taking down the Corporate Man (#YOLO), high concept ultimately exhausts the freeform Partridge genius. The Lego Movie, another recent film with the attention span of a GIF, suffered from critiques that a blockbuster film branded by a popular toy could in good faith critique big business. This too, is Alan Partridge’s problem. For all its critiques of corporate ideologies that dilute local business into iterations of “Shape: The Way You Want It,” the film goes to great lengths to make Partridge appealing to the same kids who paid their ten bucks to go see 21 Jump Street.
The formula drains Alan Partridge, whose comedic strength lies in random musings on everyday quotidian British existence in 10 to 30 minutes, tops. A few scenes rebel. The best bits come when we’re just watching Coogan riffing once he catches his breath. For one, there’s his singalong to Andrew Roachford’s “Feel For Me Baby” in the car. There is a distinct pleasure in watching a rising star make a cad of himself. But to see that little moment of comedic gold, you don’t have to go to the theater. Just wait a few months, when it will inevitably land on Youtube.