(Directed by Frank Coraci) (2019)
Steve Coogan revels in his image as a hard-edged playboy. But he also want us to think that there’s a soulful, sentimental man in there somewhere. The footloose, cynical womanising Steve Coogan character in the ‘tour’ movies with Rob Brydon is leavened with wistful moments of loneliness. Alan Partridge is a wishy washy, desperate side of the same man.
Unfortunately, when Coogan steps out of one of his alter egos, his desire to make us love him turns into an absolute puddle of gel. Witness the ghastly soppiness of his Martin Sixsmith in Stephen Frear’s Philomena (2013) or the mawkish Stan & Ollie.
We hoped for the ‘hard’ Coogan and not the lachrymose one in Hot Air. We should have known better. It’s a fairy tale along the line of Elf without the humour or humanity. Coogan does a good job as an abusive, philandering American conservative radio host. His best moment is his speech on a talk show hosted by his protégé Gareth Whitley (Skylar Astin) although it owes a great deal to Peter Finch’s unhinged rant in Network. But the film as a whole is a mess of predictable, lefty mush.
Lionel’s niece Tess (Taylor Russell), whom he has not met, turns up at his exclusive Manhattan apartment when her mother is sent to rehab for addiction. How she gets there and why is all a bit dark but it’s convenient, because now Lionel has someone other than his long-suffering girlfriend/assistant Val (an under-used Neve Campbell) to hold up the mirror to him. Conveniently also, Tess is biracial, pretty and feisty. Just as well! There is some nonsense about Tess’s mother having disappointed Lionel years ago, more nonsense about a deal Tess has made with her mother, and yet more rubbish about a completely uncharacteristic attempt by Lionel to have Tess ’emancipated’ from parental care. It all ends well. Lionel mends his evil ways and Tess goes to college. We poor viewers however are left wishing that Coogan would stop trying to assuage his conscience and convince us all that he’s really a softy. He’s not and we don’t care anyway.[Ed.: Tend to agree. Steve can’t do a Hannity or a Rush Limbaugh. Coogan’s best moments really are as Alan Partridge (see, e.g., Alpha Papa), Tommy Saxondale, and Tommy Wilson in 24 Hour Party People.]