NYFF Review: 'Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa'

As an American it is my patriotic duty to not watch BBC programming. For one thing, the shows only last six episodes. What kind of business strategy for an intellectual property is that? Next you'll tell me their main networks are taxpayer funded. Anyway, even though I'd never seen any of Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge character, I still felt very familiar with it. Partridge's self-obsessed ignoramus bit isn't that dissimilar from his roles in "The Trip" or "Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story" or "Coffee and Cigarettes," three films in which Steve Coogan is credited as playing. . .Steve Coogan.

Well, clearly he does the schtick very well, and while I'm sure there are in-jokes for Brits or those Benedict Arnold-esque Yanks who are all over the Partridge torrents, there's nothing newcomers need to know to chuckle their way through this light, dopey film.

Unassumingly directed by UK television vet Declan Lowney ("Father Ted"!) and scripted by five individuals (including Coogan and "In The Loop"'s Armando Iannucci, who co-created the character,) "Alan Partridge" is basically 90 minutes of free time for Coogan to put himself in awkward situations.

The basic set-up: a bunch of corporate jerks have bought the radio station in the sleepy town where Partridge works, and big media change is coming. In an effort to save his own job, Partridge throws the old overnight DJ (Chief O'Brien, also known as Colm Meaney) under the bus and he "gets the sack," as they say. Meaney, not knowing Partridge is to blame, snaps and takes the radio station hostage.

Even with a shotgun being waved about, there's not much risk of violence and everything is played for laughs. The captured crew is forced to create a new on-air jingle in one hour's time. . . OR ELSE. (Luckily, a stodgy-looking in-house writer turns out to be the former drummer from Marillion - and if that's the sort of unexpected joke you like, there's plenty of it in "Alan Partridge.")

Partridge ends up functioning as the liaison between the police (flummoxed by his buffoonery) and Meaney (who still thinks of Partridge as an ally.) This positions him in the media spotlight, an act not unlike feeding a Gremlin after midnight. And yet even as Coogan sprouts into full doucheyness he somehow manages to stay extremely endearing. Perhaps that's where working the same character for 20 years comes in. (I know Coogan and Danny McBride were technically in the same movie together with "Tropic Thunder," but I think full-blown cross-Atlantic D-bag buddy film from the two of them might give me a comedy stroke.)

As the foibles and misunderstandings continue there are Irish gags, radio chatter gags, Susan Boyle gags and even a "Koyanisqqatsi" gag. The real win, though, is the grand game of verbal badminton played by Coogan and his supporting cast. It has the feel of ad-lib but, of course, it's all extremely well thought out. There's not a single camera set-up without some sort of zing in it, and while not all of them are side-splitters, there's a goofy glee smeared across the whole affair. I may not have laughed out loud too much, but I had an agreeable grin on my face from the first scene. Considering the post-"Hangover" hangover mainstream American comedy is in, this is a very welcome import.

SCORE: 6.2 / 10