Steve Coogan is a devilishly clever comic actor, and as proved by "24 Hour Party People" and the recent "Philomena," his range in comparatively straight roles is subtler and wider than his resume suggests.
Meantime, there's "Alan Partridge." Here, Coogan sticks to familiar, comfortably smarmy territory, revisiting his signature character, that of the blithely egocentric radio disc jockey first introduced on BBC Radio's "On the Hour." Partridge has flitted in and out of various mediums since. The movie, directed by TV veteran Declan Lowney and written by a team of five, including Armando Iannucci ("In the Loop," "Veep"), cooks up a scenario wherein Alan must resolve a hostage crisis situation, one largely of his own making, and then Partridge his way out of it alive.
Subtitled "Alpha Papa" in last summer's popular U.K. release, "Alan Partridge" drops us into the broadcast demi-legend's life and routine as he hosts the midmorning show on North Norfolk Digital radio ("Music and chat for the Norfolk generation"). He fills his on-air time polling his listeners on, for example, the best "monger": iron, fish or war?
Then comes a sinister corporate change. The new owners rebrand the station as Shape, its craven, youth-driven motto being: "The way you want it to be." The older guard's on the way out. Either Alan goes, or it's the late-night DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney, easygoing in his sociopathology). Alan, desperate, engineers a move whereby he keeps his job and Pat loses his, and faster than you can say "Dog Day Afternoon," Pat takes the staff office party hostage at gunpoint. Alan, Pat's only friend and ally, is deployed by local police to mediate the situation.
Alan's sneaky, guilt-ridden role in Pat's fortunes makes him a highly conflicted and pretty terrible negotiator, which is good for the comedy. Some of the jokes are familiar and broad — pants getting caught in a door well, hiding in RV toilets, that sort of thing. The best bits remain the site- and job-specific ones, where Alan's simply doing his radio gig, earnestly, cluelessly. Sample: After playing a Neil Diamond song, Alan glides in with, "As far as I'm concerned, you can keep Jesus; Neil Diamond is the real king of the Jews." There are times when you wish director Lowney, shooting mostly in faux-doc handheld, went easier on the close-ups of Partridge. (Coogan can be wonderful, but he's a lot.) Still, the movie clips along and pleases its fan base, and it'll amuse a lot of Partridge newbies as well.
MPAA rating: R (for language, brief violence and nudity)
Running time: 1:30
Opens: Friday at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema