Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Old Familiar


"I'm Siege Face"; at last, Norfolk's finest is brought to the big screen in the uproarious ALAN PATRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA

ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA sees self-proclaimed broadcasting kingpin Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) working as a DJ in the mid-morning slot at North Norfolk Digital, together with Sidekick Simon (Tim Key). When the station is taken over by the Gordale media conglomerate and renamed Shape ("The Way You Want It To Be"), Alan finds himself defusing a violent siege set in motion by the firing of fellow North Norfolk DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney). Using the situation in an attempt to boost his own career, Partridge acts as mediator between Farrell and the police, with hostages caught in the crossfire. Written by Coogan, Armando Iannucci, Steve Baynham and Rob and Neil Gibbons, ALPHA PAPA successfully takes Partridge's long-standing entertainment persona and fully injects it with a claustrophobic yet cinematic scale. Fans will love to see regulars like harassed PA Lynn Benfied (Felicity Montagu) and Michael the Geordie (Simon Greenall) well into the mix, and Coogan's portrayal of his most famous alter ego is totally at one with the environment.

The most painfully endearing character created by Iannucci and Chris Morris for radio's 'ON THE HOUR' - which morphed into the prophetic TV hit THE DAY TODAY - Partridge started as an inept sports reporter, a man able to grasp only the rudimentary aspects of communication. Coogan - a renowned comedic perfectionist - made Partridge a true great of British comedy, and his acute embarrassing situations, which included shooting a guest dead on his chat show KNOWING ME, KNOWING YOU, set the scene for the next masterstroke of squirmedy, Ricky Gervais' David Brent. In fact, Partridge has been under siege all his life, a car-crash of an existence that has been undermined by terminal - but chirpy - interpersonal skills and a trademark 'sports casual' look. It is a career that has mirrored the rise of media and consequent decline in any real value; radio, TV, mockumentaries, webisodes and now film have all danced to his deflatory tune for over twenty years, illustrating a fluidity in format that has helped keep the character fresh.

The boys are back in town: old school friends aim to revive past glories in Edgar Wright's disappointing conclusion to the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, THE WORLD'S END. 

On the more abrasive comedy scale, THE WORLD'S END - Edgar Wright's completion of the loose trilogy started with SHAUN OF THE DEAD and continued with HOT FUZZ - tells of Gary King (Simon Pegg), who has always regretted failing to finish 'The Golden Mile' on his last day of school (a circuit of twelve pubs in his uneventful home town of Newton Haven). Obsessed with the idea that completing the task would make up for all his mistakes, he persuades his original 'Mile' mates - over two decades later - to abandon their respectable lives and recreate the crawl. Car salesman Peter Page (Eddie Marsan), estate agent Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), architect Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) and lawyer Andy Knightley (Nick Frost) are drawn into the venture, despite festering resentments towards Gary. When King has an altercation with a youth in the Gents who turns out to be a blue-blooded robot drone, it becomes apparent that the whole town - except for a few willing collaborators (including one played by Reece Shearsmith) – have been replaced by replicants under the control of aliens called The Network. These beings have guided recent technological advances for the human race and are determined to enforce conformity across the universe.

At a time when numbers of the quintessential British public house are ever diminishing, THE WORLD'S END takes the notion of the pub crawl and turns it into a quest of almost Arthurian nature. Although an entertaining romp, awash with the director's trademark editing frenzy, there is nothing new here despite cast and crew proclaiming how profound its message. Individuality is - quite literally - King, forced home by the use of Primal Scream's soundbyte from THE WILD ANGELS ("free to do what we want to do"). The climactic verbal melee between Gary, Andy and Steven with The Network ultimately ends with the aliens giving up trying to talk to the humans and telling them to "fuck it". By Gary convincing the aliens that mankind is not worth winning over - and in a flat coda Andy, in London ruins, explaining to children that the alien withdrawal led to an apocalypse - the film drowns in its aura of fractured relationships and failed opportunities. Whereas THE WORLD'S END ticks the boxes of its own making, ALPHA PAPA takes its own dysfunctional family and moulds a far more successful whole.