Before the release of Life on the Road in August, Ricky Gervais has another treat for his fans in the form of the remake of French film, Envoyes tres speciaux. Gervais is joined by Star Trek‘s Eric Bana in telling the story of two reporters forced to fake radio news reports from above a Spanish restaurant when their passports are accidentally thrown away. It’s a great concept for a movie and certainly seems like an appropriately Gervais-esque comedy set up.
However, Special Correspondents isn’t necessarily a laugh-a-minute affair: Gervais even admitted this himself stating that “even though that it would certainly be billed as a comedy, it’s not a big, broad, loud, obvious one”. This is perhaps where Special Correspondents falters. The premise of the film makes one expect more laughs than there are whether that is the intention of the film-makers or not. This isn’t however a fault of the performances. Gervais is on usual good form, even though he is playing the same the character that he plays in almost everything these days, and Bana can be brutally funny at times with his abrasive put-downs.
However, the real comic stars of the film are Raul Castillo and America Ferrera as Domingo and Brigida. They own the restaurant that Gervais and Bana hold up in and while they are playing the outdated role of the stupid but loveable foreigners they provide some of the film’s biggest laughs.
Special Correspondents is being released exclusively to Netflix in yet another marketing coup for the online streaming service. Most people will be watching the film on their laptops or television sets (and, God forbid, their mobile phones) and unfortunately this raises another problem with the film. It never looks like anything more than a television special or the pilot episode of a comedy series. At no point does the film become a cinematic experience. The colour palette and shot selection lends the film to feeling like an episode of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or Community. This would be fine if it were a television show, however, it isn’t and there is a different approach that should have been taken. It leaves the audience feeling slightly flat and underwhelmed.
The real charm of the film lies in the relationship between Bana and Gervais. The beginning of the film is somewhat disorientating with it being unclear whether the main character is Bana’s Frank Bonneville or Gervais’s Ian Finch. However, it soon becomes clear that it is definitely a two-hander and while the first twenty minutes could have been slightly more transparent in this regard, the relationship of the two leads plays out very nicely. Gervais plays the bumbling and shy personality well while Bana succeeds in being abrasive and arrogant without alienating the audience.
The films runs in at a tidy one hundred minutes and, in a world where feature length comedies can run well into two and a half hours, it is refreshing to see one where there isn’t too much baggage. While it is clear that improvisation was done on set, Gervais never lets it dictate the film and the scenes, for the most part, feel like they serve a purpose to the story rather than desperately trying to grab extra laughs from the audience.
So, does Special Correspondents deserve your special attention? Should you immediately add it to your Netflix watchlist? Well, those are two hard questions to answer. There is no doubt in one’s mind that if you are a Ricky Gervais fan then you will enjoy this movie. He is on good form, the other performances are solid and if you ignore the fact that it looks nothing like a film and just treat it as another one of his ninety-minute television episodes then there is not a huge amount to complain about. However, the problem is that there also isn’t much to rave about. It’s a nice film and that almost says it all. It’s just… nice.
Special Correspondents won’t blow you away but it is a gentle ninety minutes to pass your time; a shame when we’ve come to expect more from Gervais. It is certainly better than Netflix’s last attempt at cinematic comedy, though – the less said about Ridiculous 6 the better!
Special Correspondents will premiere exclusively on Netflix on April 29th, 2016 globally