TELEVISION comedies-turned-movies have a spotty track record: For every South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut or Inbetweeners hit, there is a Holiday On The Buses or The League Of Gentleman’s Apocalypse.
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (15)
Director: Declan Lowney
Running time: 90 minutes
* * * *
Understandably then, there’s been a hint of nervousness around Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, with press screenings left till the very last minute. As it turns out, this was hardly necessary. Steve Coogan’s Partridge is an uncomfortable comic hero but Alpha Papa consistently offers solid laughs while making a point about his stupidity, selfishness and lack of awareness. If 90 minutes in his company feel more like a summer special than a fully fledged film, that doesn’t diminish his latest outing as a back-of-the-net joy.
Since his fall from grace hosting a TV chat show, Alan has ditched his “Aha!” catchphrase and settled back in Norwich, spinning platters for North Norfolk Digital with his sidekick, Simon (Tim Key), and posing urgent questions to his audience such as: “Who is the worst monger – fish, iron, rumour or war?”
Alan is now 55, but seems a little more on-trend nowadays – fitter, less ruddy and less grey-haired. It’s an unexpected side of Alan’s evolution since he started out as a hopeless sports journalist on The Day Today, although curiously no-one else seems to notice this in Alpha Papa. He is also part of the job-fear zeitgeist at the start of the movie, when a new company buys up the station, intent on rebranding it and clearing out the deadwood. Alan dodges that bullet, partly by pushing forward late-night DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) into the firing line instead. This triggers a series of events culminating in Farrell taking hostages at gunpoint, with Alan unexpectedly returned to the media spotlight as the siege’s negotiator.
In the course of Declan Lowney’s film, it’s nice to see that Alan has somehow retained his stoic PA Lynn (Felicity Montagu), with his Geordie chum Michael (Simon Greenall) now working as the station’s security guard. Meaney is rather brilliant as Pat Farrell, managing unexpected pathos out of some late character detail. However, the real stars of Alpha Papa are the screenwriters, including Coogan, Armando Iannucci, Peter Baynham and twin team Rob and Neil Gibbons, who give the film the sting of Dog Day Afternoon if handed over to Steve Wright In The Afternoon. The zing of the film’s dialogue harks back to screwball comedy, except Alan so often self-kebabs that he deserves his own genre: skewer-you-ball.
It is remarkable how a team of writers sound consistently like the voice of one flawed, superficially confident man. This is not Partridge at his most painful, but beneath the veneer of comedy he remains a portrait of human nature as self-serving, weak, unable to see past its own interests and yet occasionally redeemable – even if this portrait has a musical taste forever moored in the 1980s, and a tendency to stick on a compilation album when he can’t be bothered going down to the record library.
Coogan has a large stock of Alan double-takes, expressing hopelessness, indignation or frustration. A favourite moment is Partridge’s unconcealed irritation when topical banter escapes his control in the studio. “Never offend Muslims,” Alan majestically warns the more inexperienced Simon. “Only insult Christians – and Jews, a little bit.”
The Lone Ranger (12)
* * *
Everything you remember about the Lone Ranger is present in Gore Verbinski’s big-budget, big-screen revival, including a black mask, a Native American companion, a cry of “Hi-yo Silver” and a hoof-stomping rendition of the William Tell Overture. However, as Eric Morecambe once said, “I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.”
Still, after four Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, maybe Verbinski has concluded that audiences aren’t too bothered about a faithful rendition of an ancient property, or quaint notions such as lucid storytelling, provided you can offer Johnny Depp with a dead crow on his head, action sequences that look like great Disneyland rides, and all the western movie references you couldn’t pack into Rango.
The main framing device, for instance, recalls Little Big Man, with an elderly Tonto (Depp) regaling a small boy with the story of the Old West. There are also shades of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, as |a valiant but bumbling Texas Ranger (The Social Network’s Armie Hammer) who reinvents himself as a mask-wearing vigilante.
Two and a half hours later, we arrive at a pretty-thrilling climactic railroad chase. The trouble is by then the film has almost buried some laudable revisionist and existential ambitions under clashing influences and eccentric digressions, including Helena Bonham Carter, left, with an ivory leg that doubles as a shotgun.
The Moo Man (U)
* * * *
Dairy farmer Stephen Hook is very attached to Ida, Biddy and the rest of his 70-strong cowherd. He believes the close relationship improves their milk, which he sells raw (not in Scotland, because unpasteurised milk is banned here). A film about one man’s fight against the supermarket culture shouldn’t be this touching, but Hook’s devotion to his bovine brood is captivating.
Cameo, Edinburgh, 12 August; Filmhouse, Edinburgh, 30 August to 2 September; Dundee Contemporary Arts, 19, 21 and 22 August.
Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters (PG)
* * *
This belated sequel to Percy Jackson And The Lightening Thief is largely down to a studio’s hope that leading man Logan Lerman is destined to be The Next Big Thing. His quest this time is for a golden fleece, while his film cuts nickels and dimes from the budget. Pierce Brosnan, Kevin McKidd and Steve Coogan are absent this time, replaced by Stanley Tucci and Anthony Head, and a new Cyclops character tends to hide his expensive CGI eyeball behind sunglasses or with a normalising “Mist” spray. Yet it has a matinee gusto which may satisfy young teens.
On general release from Wednesday.
Looking For Hortense (12A)
* * *
In Pascal Bonitzer’s comedy, a lecturer (Jean-Pierre Bacri) gets embroiled to a fight to stop the deportation of a Serbian woman. Kristin Scott-Thomas (right) reprises another of her chilly wife roles.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Friday until 12 August.
Laurent Cantet puts his spin on Joyce Carol Oates’ novel about a 1950s girl gang. Some of the newcomers are pretty good, but the drama is overlong and stilted.
Glasgow Film Theatre, Friday until 15 August; Dundee Contemporary Arts, 16-22 August.
Grown Ups 2 (12A)
Adam Sandler and his manchild pals return with more scatology and maudlin sentimentality. When you’re reduced to admiring Taylor Lautner’s acting chops, you are handling comedy Kryptonite. Unsuitable for all ages.
On general release from Friday