The news that we're a little disappointed by Alpha Papa actually reflects rather well on the creators of Norwich's greatest fungal foot powder enthusiast. By now, 20 years down the line, Alan Partridge – sports reporter, chat-show host, Toblerone addict – should have been flogged half to death. But the sitcom was funny. The recent web series was excellent. Even the fake autobiography was a laugh. We have every right to demand that the film be another groundbreaking expansion of the Partridge empire.
It’s not that. There are certainly some fine jokes here. Surprising new horizons open up to Alan in the last few minutes. Most of the old gang get to do their greatest hits. But this visually unattractive picture never feels like anything other than an extended television episode.
The premise is pretty funny. When we last met Alan on the internet, he was working for a radio station called North Norfolk Digital. Alpha Papa sees the company being taken over by a bland corporate entity that sets about firing the older, cosier DJs and replacing them with young chattering idiots. (Not for the first time in the Partridge saga, it's easy to sympathise with our anti-hero.) Alan manages to survive. But Pat Farrell, an Irish blarney-maestro played by the inimitable Colm Meaney, is sacked and decides to take the remaining employees hostage.
The writers do a good job of dangling enough potential aggrandisement in front of Alan to make his decision to act as hostage negotiator plausible. But the character does seem to have been slightly softened for the less angular world of mainstream cinema.
Steve Coogan allows his glorious monster more courage and decency than ever before. Indeed, many of the subsidiary characters – particularly Felicity Montagu's less subservient Lynn – look to have been noticeably tweaked. It's a cosier universe: there is not enough of the patented Partridge cringe factor; he seems less tragic.
For all that, Alpha Papa is still funnier than 80 percent of British feature comedies. "Jurassic park"? "Back of the net"? Not quite. No committed Partridgidian will, however, want to miss it.