CHOOSING to premiere a movie on Netflix isn’t quite the modern equivalent of straight-to-video but it has yet to bring us something truly brilliant in film terms (TV is another matter) and unfortunately the wait continues with Special Correspondents, an average but enjoyable comedy from Ricky Gervais that shows flashes of his genius swaddled in mediocrity.
This is Gervais’ third feature-length film as both writer and director. It’s been a few years since the man who brought David Brent into the world wrote something for Hollywood that wasn’t designed to mock A-listers. If you remember he first brought us The Invention of Lying in 2009 and then Cemetery Junction a year later, both reasonable but again nothing to rival his work on The Office TV series where he made his name (and Martin Freeman’s).
Special Correspondents sees Gervais’ character Ian Finch, a sound engineer at a middling New York radio station, teamed up with slick, superficial and self-regarding broadcaster Frank Bonneville, played by Eric Bana (Troy, Munich). The pair are sent to cover the outbreak of conflict in Ecuador but when Finch loses the passports and tickets the duo end up pursuing a hair-brained scheme to pretend they are broadcasting live from the South American country when they are in fact sat in a cafe across the road. Things escalate quickly and before you can say “I know where this is going” they’re faking their own kidnapping.
This is actually a remake of a 2009 French film, Envoyés Speciaux (yep, you guessed it, that translates as Special Correspondents). I can’t speak to the other film, but this Hollywood version is a predictable affair, though it’s still fun to watch Bana play a comic role (and well). Gervais’ writing delivers some clever lines and genuinely funny moments and, while now a tad trite, his sad fat man shtick still entertains.
By far the greatest single moment in the movie is when Finch’s wife Eleanor, played by Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, Source Code, The Judge) sings a song live on national television in a cynical attempt to raise her own profile off the back of her husband’s apparent disappearance (she’s a bit of a shit). Not only does Farmiga deliver it with a brilliant comic intensity but the song itself, penned by Gervais (who began his career wanting to be a musician), is a phenomenal piece of satire on the American public and its propensity for gushing, God-saluting patriotism.
Actually her whole character is one of the best things about the film. I think Gervais might have found his muse in Farmiga and we may yet see him write a feature film that is as fresh, unique and appealing as The Office proved to be if they can team up again.
Final word: Funny and enjoyable but ultimately middle of the road save for a few moments, one of which is utterly brilliant.
If you liked Special Correspondents you should also watch:
- Cemetery Junction
- The Invention of Lying