Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly identified the county in which Norwich is located. This version has been corrected.
Alan Partridge, the callow, obnoxious, stubbornly amusing creation of British comedian Steve Coogan, makes his big-screen debut in “Alan Partridge,” a larky if sketchily schematic attempt to see if the self-adoring DJ has the chops to carry his own feature film.
Based on this uneven but occasionally hilarious outing, the jury is still out. “Alan Partridge” will certainly appeal to die-hard fans of the character, whom Coogan created more than 20 years ago as a fictional sports reporter on the BBC’s current affairs radio show “On the Hour.” In “Alan Partridge,” our eponymous antihero is working in a local radio station in Norwich, a steadfastly un-quaint town in England’s Norfolk County.
When the station comes under the stewardship of profit-minded corporate overlords, the transition sends the staff into a swivet of anxiety — and, ultimately, an armed standoff, when one of the station’s employees is unceremoniously sacked.
Coogan created Alan Partridge with Armando Iannucci, best known as the viper-ish wit behind HBO’s fiendishly clever political satire “Veep.” As with that show — as well as with Iannucci’s scathing Iraq War takedown, “In the Loop” — some of the best moments of “Alan Partridge” are found in the tossed-off, sotto voce asides that characters deliver almost as afterthoughts. Here, those take the form of Partridge’s smarmily cruel song introductions (he identifies Fleetwood Mac as “soft rock cocaine enthusiasts”) and a series of escalatingly more inane call-in topics, such as “Which is the worst ‘monger’?” or “Things that were better in the old days.”
Known for his singularly antisocial sense of humor, Partridge doesn’t disappoint, running roughshod over religious sensitivities (“Never criticize Muslims,” he scolds his young sidekick, played by Tim Key. “Only Christians. Jews, a little bit.”) and trotting out tired gay jokes. “Alan Partridge” also possesses its share of slapstick, off-color humor: In one of the best gags, Alan delivers a word-perfect disquisition to his assistant, Lynn (Felicity Montagu), on the ospreys he says he’s researching on the computer, while the perfectly formed buttocks of a female porn star are clearly reflected in his glasses. Later, he manages to make the best of a hoary routine in which he’s caught, quite literally, with his pants down.
Partridge is such a fatuous, superficial figure that the trick is to make him palatable enough to sustain interest for more than an hour. The filmmakers meet with uneven success, putting him into a barely there wisp of a story, but allowing Coogan’s own complicated mix of nastiness and disarming self-awareness to percolate through and carry the day. (Perhaps the world is divided into two types of people: those who prefer Coogan’s Alan Partridge persona, and those who prefer his giddily funny improvisatory explorations with Rob Brydon.)
Once viewers accept “Alan Partridge’s” desultory groaners, they may well come to enjoy its playful, sometimes morbidly funny lunacy. It’s all a question of taste, which Partridge fans know all too well their favorite screw-up lacks in all the right places.
R. At Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema. Contains language, brief violence and nudity. 90 minutes.