Alan Partridge Directed by Declan Lowney A sketch comedy stretched too far

Throw Him a Groan: Coogan stretches his sketch too far.

Steve Coogan may do a sublime Michael Caine impersonation, as he proved in 2011’s often abrasive, sorta-comedy The Trip. But more often than not, he seems like a dick, as he also proved in The Trip—as well as in Ruby Sparks, Our Idiot Brother, and even the Oscar-nominated Philomena. (OK, so he shows his softer side at the very end. But until then, you wish you could punch him in his smug asshole face.)

Where was I?

Right. Coogan nearly turns that ’tude around in Alan Partridge, despite a misleading tagline: “Someone is trying to kill Alan. You’ll wish it was you.” For many Americans, the film will be their introduction to a sketch character Coogan’s been playing since 1991 to considerable acclaim across the pond. And, just like when the majority of Saturday Night Live characters go big-screen rogue, the result is fairly weak, inevitably feeling like a skit stretched too far. Because, well, that’s exactly what it is.

It’s difficult to get a solid sense of Alan’s motivations based on Declan Lowney’s film alone. He’s an old-school DJ in an increasingly corporate industry—which is the gist of the plot—someone who’s kinda clueless, self-centered, goofy, and a person who both dishes out insults yet reins in others when they take a joke too far.

The story focuses on the takeover of Alan’s radio station by a conglomerate with execs who say things like, “I don’t like subtitles in my films. Citizen Kane, black and white? Haven’t seen that.” Punk kids are brought in to spin preapproved records, while one of the station’s vets, Pat (Colm Meaney), is let go when Alan persuades the board to keep him instead. Pat loses it and takes hostages at a company party, though he claims—while wielding a shotgun—that he only wants his job back. The cops trust Alan to be their mediator.

The script offers little more than mild laughs, running along the lines of Airplane!-esque humor (which it could have used more of, truthfully), silly or offensive on-air banter, and occasional groan-inducing physical gags, like Alan’s enthusiastic lip-synching. The film’s strongest suit is its commentary on capitalist homogenization, and viewers who recall radio’s glory days will find poignance in Pat’s musing to Alan: “Remember when we used to choose our own records?” But one on-point message does not a successful comedy make —and as for Coogan, you’ll still think he’s a dick.

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