Steve Coogan-Colm Meaney-680
Photo by Nicola Dove - Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Steve Coogan spent many years trying to shed his hilariously awful alter ego, radio personality Alan Partridge, which made him a star in the 1990s on British television but made it difficult for him to play different kinds of roles. (His closest equivalent in the U.S. is probably Larry David’s character in Curb Your Enthusiasm.) The series also gave a boost to his writing partners Armando Iannucci (creator of the scathing British comedy series The Thick of It and its U.S. offshoot, Veep) and Peter Baynham (whose credits range from Borat to Arthur Christmas). With the passage of time, they’ve relented, and following a 2012 television special, they have collaborated with Coogan and writers Neil Gibbons and Rob Gibbons for this theatrical feature. Rest assured, the character hasn’t lost his bite and there are a number of caustic chuckles to be had in this entertaining if somewhat underwhelming film.

Always ego-driven, Partridge is more desperate than usual because a cold-blooded corporation has bought the radio station where he works in Norfolk. They want to modernize and rebrand it, which puts morning-man Alan and his equally dense nighttime colleague Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) at risk. When the axe falls, chaos erupts, and Alan finds himself right in the middle of it all.

Partridge’s behavior is as appalling as ever, but this time he’s competing with the extreme conduct of his cohort, played by the always-formidable Meaney. The situation escalates with each wince-inducing scene, yet, under Declan Lowney’s direction, the film is content to glide rather than push,  providing fairly consistent laughs rather than building to a comic crescendo.

Coogan knows this character inside out and never breaks a sweat: Alan Partridge is unabashed, unapologetic, and unseemly, dealing with friends and foes alike in the same way, with only his self-interest at heart. In the hands of a less skillful performer he could be shrill or alienating, yet Coogan pulls us in and makes us want to see what he’s going to do next. That, I suppose, is the secret of Partridge’s enduring popularity (especially in the U.K., where this film was titled Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa).