Ricky Gervais revels in button-pushing humour, and he’s proven to transcend those same gags by stripping away the glamourous sheen from the rich and famous. In film and television, he’s used this gusto to make satirical jabs at faith and goodwill (The Invention of Lying) as well as fluff up ignorant egos (UK’s The Office).
Gervais is a bit frazzled in Special Correspondents, his latest vehicle as a director/writer/actor which is currently streaming on Netflix. He’s working within the same satirical wheelhouse by making snide observations about the legitimacy of journalism and those who exploit tragedies for fame, but he never goes in for the kill. He would rather just let the film sit and grow stagnant. Part of the problem is due to Gervais balancing two types of movies: his usual satire and a routine buddy film that lacks chemistry between himself and co-star Eric Bana.
Bana plays a hotshot radio broadcaster named Frank, and Gervais plays Ian, a lowly audio technician at the same station. Together, they’re assigned a last-minute job to travel to Ecuador. Ian – distraught after conflicts with his wife Eleanor (Vera Farmiga) – accidentally foils the mission. After some prolonged worrying, Special Correspondents turns into an extended sitcom as Ian and Frank hide out next door to their station and convince the world they’re actually in Ecuador.
The fact that Ian and Frank can lie and then peer at the repercussions next door is lazy storytelling and belittles the intelligence of the characters. The notion that Frank and Ian believe they can walk around outside confidently with simple accessories covering their faces suggests this film doesn’t think highly of the audience either. Crummy Spanish stereotypes performed by America Ferrera and Raúl Castillo highlight all of the above.
Bana overacts, as if he doesn’t believe he’s cool enough to play Frank. The audience knows that if Bana anchored himself, he wouldn’t have to try hard to outlast Gervais. Gervais has played this character before – a chump with a weak backbone – and he can still makes us smile. However, he overplays his role by resorting to geeky tropes, as if he doesn’t believe he can be pathetic enough.
This overcompensating and tepidness haunts Special Correspondents. Even a climactic action scene feels like an apology to the audience who has been waiting for something to happen. Gervais may have his name written all over this film, but the lack of investment suggests he feels contempt for Special Correspondents.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie