Ricky Gervais’ Netflix feature film, Special Correspondents, isn’t as funny, politically charged or free flowing as it ought to be. Instead, Gervais delivers a film that stumbles through a typical narrative with only a handful of chuckles to sooth the process.
Special Correspondents, a remake of the 2009 French film Envoyes tres speciaux, finds radio journalist Frank Bonneville (Eric Bana) and his technician Finch (Gervais) in over their heads when they hatch a scheme to fake their own kidnapping during a rebel uprising in Ecuador and hide out in New York instead … right across the street from their radio station.
Story – D
First of all, if you’re looking for something as new and refreshing as The Office, Extras or even Derek from Ricky Gervais, you’re looking in the wrong place. Special Correspondents is a wholeheartedly typical affair that doesn’t do anything contradictory to the norm. It features the tacky and ‘heart-warming’ rom-com subplot and thread, it features the redemptive hero and the bumbling buffoon and every character is two-dimensional. Gervais doesn’t shower himself in glory with the characters he has crafted here. And contrary to what some claim, Gervais does have the talent to make believable characters. It’s just not on display in this particular production.
However, even if the story was boring and typical – and it is – Gervais had the opportunity to tell a really timely and politically charged story. The English writer/director could have told a narrative that contained the dark and poking humour he is known for whilst sending an important message about journalism in such an oppressive and dangerous time. He didn’t. Instead, Gervais stays away from that line by about a mile. Special Correspondents never actually touches on the merits of journalism – often presenting it as a limp web of lies – as it keeps the focus on an archetypal romantic conflict.
Direction – D
Much like 99% of his work, Gervais also directs Special Correspondents from his rather luke warm script. And once again, Gervais’ direction is luke warm. There are plenty of in-jokes about how Special Correspondents is a low-budgeted film and it tells. Aside from a few colourful and bright shots, the Netflix film feels like it was made for television. It feels like it was made for the small screen and whilst it will be viewed on small screens, it is meant to be a feature film.
The picture also feels incredibly rushed towards the end, as everything is resolved in the blink of an eye. It rollicks towards a conclusion, skipping over some potentially fun sequences, and hits credits with a snap.
Acting – D+
But perhaps the biggest problem with Special Correspondents is the chemistry between Eric Bana and Ricky Gervais. Gervais is known for having really good chemistry with his co-stars. The Office connects are clear for all to see. In Extras, Gervais showed that he had Hollywood potential. And Derek showed that Gervais could perform under serious conditions, even when working with his old chrome-headed pal Karl Pilkington. However, he and Bana are not compatible. The partnership never really works and this is ultimately a failure because the characters don’t feel like there bonding when the script is telling them to bond.
Having said that, the loveable and often hilarious – they seem to be the only ones – America Ferrera and Raul Castillo delight as the Spanish owners of the café Finch and Frank hide out in. Ferrera and Castillo seem to be the only ones having fun in the film and their characters are the ones that allow us to have fun.
Ultimately, Special Correspondents is a disappointment. But you wont find me decrying that Gervais has lost his touch or that he isn’t the writer/director he used to be. This is a miss-step. Prior to this Gervais made Derek and that is a wholly underrated and beautiful show. Sadly, Special Correspondents doesn’t live up to that or Gervais’ usual brand of dark humour and punchy messaging. At the end of the day, there is nothing special about Special Correspondents.
Score – D+