Special Correspondents (2016) – Comedy
Directed by: Ricky Gervais
Starring: Eric Bana and Ricky Gervais
How I Watched: Netflix
Best Line: “Kill everybody. Greetings from New York.”
Ricky Gervais is a funny man. Deny it all you want, but really, his projects have influenced comedy in every format over the last decade. He’s had more than his hand in both versions of The Office, Extras, Life’s Too Short, An Idiot Abroad, and in my opinion, the critically underappreciated The Invention of Lying. Some of you out there may have seen the extremely British dramedy series Derek on Netflix, which showed Gervais stretching his acting chops into the Forrest Gump-ish, man-child arena and polarized its viewership.
When I read that Gervais was creating a Netflix original movie, I was pretty excited as a fan of his work. The cast was pretty impressive and the premise at least sounded like it could be funny. Ghost Town was alright, and as mentioned above, I thought The Invention of Lying was clever and had some moments that were funny as hell. Since Special Correspondents was produced strictly for Netflix, I knew that Gervais had free reign with the content, leaving him with some really great comedic opportunity. Sadly, the script and the rest of the film really missed that mark.
Let’s start with the cast. Gervais is of course, Ricky Gervais in the film. He has neuroses about everyday issues and is just funny enough to keep the film from drowning as the film’s co-star. Eric Bana coasts through the film, playing the poster-boy, lady-killer and is at times, unbearable. Scottish born Kelly MacDonald, who I know best as Carla Jean Moss in No Country For Old Men, is questionably in the film as Gervais and Bana’s American co-worker and it seems that this role could have gone to anyone that has less acting skill than Macdonald.
Vera Farmiga, though, steals the show from the rest of the cast as Gervais’ greedy wife. I can tell a good amount of the creation of the script was based around her character as she develops a scheme to get money from the everyday American based on a false kidnapping narrative. I think the devout Atheist Gervais was going for a bit of a metaphoric commentary here, as he is never shy on social media concerning American Christianity and its many faults. This was one of the only funny storylines in the film and receives depressingly too little screen time.
I can tell what Ricky Gervais was going for when he developed the idea for Special Correspondents. The two main characters of the film work for New York based news radio and come up with a scheme that will get them listeners. They make up a story about getting kidnapped in Ecuador, which clutches the attention and sympathies of the American public, but the story goes virtually nowhere. I can imagine that Gervais wanted to make the next Stripes or even Tropic Thunder, but instead, this movie is more like a bad Adam Sandler film.
This movie is saved (and I use that term very loosely) by Gervais’ ability to make a conversation uncomfortable. He is much better in Extras and The Office, but there’s just enough from him in Special Correspondents to make you chuckle. He plays off Bana’s mannequin-like character very well, and leaves plenty of opportunity for the rest of the cast to shine. Unfortunately, they just don’t. There is an underwhelming amount of Gervais’ usual cameos in his work, which surprised me since I can imagine Netflix gave him a relatively long leash.
To say Special Correspondents is disappointing is an understatement. There is a wealth of talent on hand and plenty of opportunity for creator Ricky Gervais to run wild. I really don’t know what happened, but this one seemed to be dead on arrival from the opening scene. Those that enjoy Gervais’ work as much as I do won’t find much here to enjoy. In fact, I think if you are one of those that enjoy his work, you will be even more disappointed than those less familiar with the man behind The Office.
Final Score: 1.5/4
Similar Films: Tropic Thunder, Ghost Town, Stripes