Just sack Judge Erich Asperschlager.
"That was soft rock cocaine enthusiasts Fleetwood Mac, and this…is Mid Morning Matters."
Alan Partridge marks the first time American audiences will get to experience a character British audiences have known for decades. Can the smarmy radio host win new fans across the ocean? Only time, and Magnolia's Blu-ray release, will tell.
Facts of the Case
An armed ex-employee has stormed the North Norfolk Digital radio station to protest the takeover by a media conglomeration, and the only person he'll negotiate with is longtime DJ Alan Partridge—a man unqualified for the job, even if he doesn't know it.
Steve Coogan has been part of the British comedy scene since satirical '80s puppet show Spitting Image. He co-created the character of Alan Partridge with Armando Iannucci of The Thick of It and Veep fame. Coogan's clueless TV and radio host has been a mainstay of British radio and television since the early '90s. The character's feature film debut, directed by Declan Lowney (titled Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa overseas) played in the UK as comic comfort food—the return of an old favorite. The film comes to US audiences courtesy of Magnolia, with none of the familiarity or history. As an American introduction to the character, Alan Partridge works fairly well. Even though TV and radio hosts don't have the same importance in a fractured American media landscape than they do in the UK, Partridge's self-obsessed shtick bridges the cultural divide.
The basic plot in Alan Partridge is a familiar one: the old guard fights back when outsiders threaten to take over. In this case, a local radio station is swallowed up by a media conglomeration who wants to oust the established personalities in favor of fresh faces and multi-regional synergy. First on the chopping block are talk show DJ Alan Partridge and old-timey music man Pat Farrell. Alan throws his mate under the bus, only to have Pat return to the station with a shotgun and a plan to hold the new management hostage and take back the airwaves.
The police send Partridge in to negotiate a truce with Farrell, but before long our cowardly hero realizes that prolonging the standoff is a good career move. Playing both sides against the middle ingratiates him to his new bosses, the hostage taker, and local listeners alike. As with all brilliant plans made by stupid people, it comes crumbling down in hilarious fashion as the movie builds to a climax that finds Partridge hiding inside the septic tank of an RV toilet.
Whether you're familiar with the character or not, Alan Partridge is very funny. It melds the best of modern British comedy, with dry asides and cerebral jokes intermingled with potty humor. Unlike the paper thin catch phrase-spewers on Saturday Night Live, Coogan's Partridge feels lived-in and fully formed. The has-been host is a tone deaf phony living in the past. Little wonder the new owners of North Norfolk Digital want to replace him with younger DJs. The gag is that the newcomers are just as fake as he is. Maybe more. The only sincere person at the station is Farrell, a sweet widower who lives to fulfill listener requests and play music he loves. He's the only employee who takes the buyout seriously—Partridge responds to the news with a bored "So?"—and the only one willing to stand up for local tradition. Alan only joins Pat's crusade when it suits his selfish goals.
There are a lot of great performances in the movie, but the draw is Steve Coogan. He throws himself into a physical role that takes Partridge out of the studio and into a variety of dangerous situations—at the hands of a gun-wielding maniac and a crack police force, and as the half-naked victim of his own vain stupidity. He walks the line between the British cliche of an unlikeable character in uncomfortable situations and their tradition of lovable goofs. We root for Partridge because he's an underdog who thinks he's the hero.
Alan Partridge arrives on Blu-ray with a sharp 2.40:1/1080p transfer. The movie might argue for the old traditions in the face new media, but it benefits from a modern all-digital approach. The HD cameras deliver strong detail with natural color and the look of film, while allowing for close quarter interior shooting that puts characters front and center. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track keeps the dialogue crisp with room for the occasional big action music cue.
If Magnolia wanted to give American audiences a proper introduction to Alan Partridge, they should have included some sort of bonus feature primer on the character. A brief history, perhaps, or a couple of episodes from the Mid Morning Matters web series that served as a prequel to the film. At the very least, we should be getting everything in the British Blu-ray release. We don't. Not by a long shot. Where the Region B disc included an audio commentary, deleted scenes, blooper reel, and 35 minute making-of doc, the American extras are limited to a trio of repetitive featurettes:
• "Making of Alan Partridge" (12:05)—A standard EPK covering the bases of the character and the film, including interviews with the main cast and crew.
• "Behind the Scenes" (1:42)—A rapid fire montage of on-set footage, set to the Blu-ray menu music.
• "AXS TV: A Look at Alan Partridge" (2:56)—This last featurette covers the same ground as the previous two, with several of the same jokes.
Alan Partridge works as a commentary on the turbulence of modern media, character study, and action comedy. Viewers familiar with Steve Coogan's iconic British broadcaster may get a bit more out of it, but even newcomers can enjoy Partridge's feature film debut. Coogan and cohorts are hilarious, and the transfer delivers. If only the bonus features were worthwhile.
Alan Partridge…truly the "King of the Blu's"
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
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