A miserable medium between Will Ferrell's Ron Burgundy and Ricky Gervais's David Brent, Steve Coogan's local broadcast ass Alan Partridge stands as sharp, incisive parody, a desperate, thin-skinned, self-involved, utterly detestable radio host who specializes in forgettable on-air palaver -- and who, once the microphone is off, leaves a trail of smarm after him like a slug's slick.
Partridge has starred in three TV series that alternate between buffoonery and cringe comedy; a solution of the same ingredients powers the first two-thirds of his film debut, an often funny workplace hostage comedy that doesn't demand prior knowledge of the character. The oily stupidity embodied by Coogan tells you everything you need to know. The story is a familiar one of corporate takeovers and the sacking of longtime employees, filmed with the carpet-store flatness that is Coogan's element: In surroundings this drab, preening Partridge almost seems charismatic. Partridge convinces his station's new owners to sack fellow presenter Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) instead of him; Pat returns to the station during an office party and holds everyone hostage.
Not realizing Partridge has betrayed him, Pat takes to the airwaves, doing the kind of boring, comfort-food radio the new owners don't care for -- they prefer louder boring radio. Pat enlists Partridge as co-host, and Coogan is hysterical in the moments when the character is torn between the possibility of heroics, his disgust at the new owners, and his desire to do the kind of shit radio he feels born to. The best new joke here is that the old guard fighting for their jobs and the new guard replacing them with central-office twaddle are both equally wretched.