Welcome to Norwich – “a fine city”. Home to Alan Partridge, once of the BBC and now a DJ at North Norfolk Digital radio. He’s 55, got aggressive athlete’s foot and his children no longer speak to him. But he’s about to become a hero. Actually in his eyes, he might be “the biggest thing to come out of Norwich since Lord Nelson or Trisha”.
Fans of Steve Coogan’s enduring middle-aged middle Englander will be gladdened to find that Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is a resounding success, not tarnishing or diluting the character in any way. While the sitcom-to-cinema route is a path strewn with misfires and missed opportunities (The League Of Gentleman’s Apocalypse, anyone?), Coogan and his phalanx of co-writers (including regular Partridge scribes Peter Baynham and Armando Iannucci) have studiously avoided the pitfalls.
Admittedly, it helps that Alan has always been a character malleable enough for different formats and mediums - from skits as a sports broadcaster in satirical news programme The Day Today to fronting his own chat show Knowing Me, Knowing You on both Radio 4 and BBC2 to his recent web-only segments, presenting North Norfolk Digital’s Mid Morning Matters. Not that you will find Coogan and co. resorting to old catchphrases. There’s not an "A-ha" in earshot.
Likewise, it’s a relief that Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa doesn’t follow the Sacha Baron Cohen route seen (with varying degrees of success) in Borat, Brüno and The Dictator and send him to America. He’s still at NND presenting MMM with co-host Sidekick Simon (Tim Key); though fans will be pleased to see he’s been joined by his old Radio Norwich cohort Dave Clifton (Phil Cornwell), last seen in sitcom I’m Alan Partridge and now full of funny-tragic tales about his booze and Class-A addictions.
Also back is Alan’s faithful PA Lynn (Felicity Montagu) and his Geordie chum Michael (Simon Greenall), who has now swapped his work at the BP mini-mart to become a security guard at the radio station. Changes are afoot there, however, as NND is set to be re-branded under the name Shape (“The Way You Want It To Be”); Alan’s fellow ageing DJ, Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) has already seen the writing on the wall and is fearing for his job.
When that becomes a reality – thanks to Alan secretly imploring the station brass to "Just Sack Pat" – Pat loses it, storming the station with a shotgun and taking everyone hostage. With Alan outside the building at the time, he’s asked to become the conduit between Pat and the police during the siege – finally putting him back on the telly after all these years.
If this corporate take-down is hardly the most complex of plots, it’s enough of a peg to hang the jokes on, which arrive at a dizzying rate of knots.
For those who enjoy the liquid radio links spun by Partridge, there’s plenty to luxuriate in – everything from "Norfolk’s most sun-tanned child" to the question of who is the worst ‘monger’: “fish, iron, rumour or war". The music is suitably Alan too – everything from the man himself miming along to Roachford’s ‘Cuddly Toy’ in the opening credits, to OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’, the theme from Ski Sunday and a triumphant use of John Farnham anthem ‘You’re The Voice’.
While the middle third dips in pace a little, not least in two dream sequences that should’ve been left as deleted scenes, it’s never enough to derail the film’s momentum. Coogan proves particularly game in one ‘escape’ scene that ends up as a brilliant cringe-comedy homage to The Silence Of The Lambs.
Impressively, director Declan Lowney (a Father Ted regular who directed Alan in last year’s Sky special) manages to ensure this feels like a film. Even if the action scenes don’t quite feel like Michael Mann made it to Norfolk, the editing’s crisp and there are some neatly executed sight gags; check out the scene when Alan is in his “business centre” bolt hole crouching over his laptop just as Lynn walks in…
There are even some unexpected emotional beats – from Alan mournfully passing on a message to family members to the revelation of Pat’s personal sorrows (touchingly played by Meaney). In the end, though, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is an admirable achievement for one simple reason: it takes Norwich’s finest to the big screen in the most gloriously parochial way possible.
Smartly executed, endlessly quotable and machine-gun quick, this is one of the funniest films of 2013. Accessible forPartridge novices and hugely rewarding for the faithful. Jurassic Park!