I wish I hadn’t known that Special Correspondents was a remake of a 2009 French comedy of the same name. Ricky Gervais is arguably one of the world’s greatest humourists and his unique approach to observational comedy is unrivalled. There is a level of expectation that comes with his work – and perhaps the onus is on the viewer – but I lost some enthusiasm knowing that his latest film was not conceptually original.
The film, written and directed by Gervais and produced exclusively for Netflix, sees Eric Bana playing a conceited radio journalist assigned to Ecuador to cover a rising conflict. When his incompetent technician (Gervais) accidentally discards their passports and visas, they scramble to hatch a scheme that sees them faking the story from an apartment across the road from the radio station. Seeing as part of their story involves a faux kidnapping, the nation suddenly pays attention and rallies to raise money to set them free, all while they sit in the comfort of their New York hideout.
It’s a great concept and the appeal of remaking it is completely understandable. Unfortunately, the material doesn’t feel suited to Gervais’ style or sensibilities. But that’s not to say that it’s without merit. Gervais is very good, as always, and Eric Bana absolutely nails it. In fact, this is as good as Bana has been in a long time, and it’s wonderful to see him return to his comedic roots. The film is shot beautifully and it adheres to the Netflix aesthetic, which, to me, is a crisp, clean look with lots of slow, steady panning shots and an overall distilled ambience (if that makes sense).
The two leads are well written and nicely understated, yet, oddly, they are surrounded by caricatures. Vera Farmiga plays Gervais’ heartless wife and offers a performance straight out of someone else’s movie. Her tone and overall delivery is mismatched to the material and her prominence throughout the middle-act is distracting – to the point of almost derailing the movie. America Ferrera plays alongside Raúl Castillo as a dim-witted Spaniard and, again, delivers a brand of comedy that resides well below the film’s ambition. They are good performers in their own right, but they make for a scattered and ill-conceived ensemble here.
Special Correspondents also suffers from major pacing issues. The first and final acts are adequate, and they move along fluently, but the entire middle-act is laboured and intrusive. The characters we’re supposed to care about are given a back seat when the narrative changes its focus and breaks away from the satire. The comedy becomes absurdist and hammy, with an unwelcome exploration of farce, and some viewers may find themselves double-checking for a “National Lampoon’s” banner on the poster. Fortunately, Gervais collects himself to bring it all back into line for a decent final-act.
The film is certainly not up to scratch with Gervais’ previous work, but given that it’s easily accessible on Netflix and offers an adequate amount of laughs, then most (not all) of its shortcomings can be overlooked without too much reservation.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10