Special Correspondents review: Can Ricky Gervais bring the funny to Netflix?

Is Ricky Gervais' latest a hit or miss?

Ricky Gervais and Eric Bana in Special Correspondents
Buddy movie Ricky Gervais and Eric Bana in Special Correspondents. Image Picture Kerry Hayes/Netflix

Special Correspondents (15)
Running Time: 101 minutes
7/10

Ricky Gervais’ third film as a director sees him strike out on his own to helm a comedy loosely based on 2009 French hit Special Correspondents.

Where The Invention Of Lying teamed him with Matthew Robinson and Cemetery Junction was a joint effort with Stephen Merchant, this is Gervais solo (he also stars in it, wrote the script and produces). So he’s got something to prove.

It’s a lot of plates to spin, but Gervais manages to deliver a movie that’s funny and heartfelt. Of all the things in his back catalogue, this feels sharply aligned to Extras in its sly lampooning of celebrity culture and a romance reminiscent of Gervais’ Andy Millman and Ashley Jensen’s Maggie.

In Special Correspondents, Gervais is Ian Finch, a sad-sack sound technician who walks away from an unhappy marriage and into war-torn Ecuador with Eric Bana’s hotshot radio host Frank Bonneville. Except he doesn’t make it to Ecuador: a gaffe with passports means the pair can’t get out of the country and have to fake news reports from above a restaurant opposite their New York office HQ.

Ricky Gervais in Special Correspondents
Action hero Ricky Gervais teams up with Eric Bana in Netflix's Special Correspondents. Image Picture Kerry Hayes/Netflix

What plays out is essentially old-school farce with a dash of that classic Simpsons episode Radio Bart. One big lie spirals dramatically out of control when a kidnapping plot gets thrown into the mix and Ian’s wife Eleanor (Vera Farmiga) seeks to cash in on the attention by releasing a ‘charity’ single.

Ian and Frank realise they need to go to Ecuador for real when the US president promises to extract them from the US embassy, and part of the fun is watching Gervais and Bana riff off each other as a comedy double-act. Bana started out as a stand-up before he made it as a Hollywood star, and he brings an edge of twattish arrogance to his character without ever becoming too obnoxious.

Farmiga is funny, too, channeling every kind of reality TV fame-mad parasite you can think of. Kelly Macdonald plays Claire, a work colleague who Ian shares a close bond with. It’s a plot thread similar to Tim/Dawn in The Office and Andy/Maggie in Extras, and one that gives the movie heart to match the humour.

Special Correspondents may never quite scale the heights of classics like The Office and Extras, but it’s Gervais back on form on the big screen and another win from Netflix. All bodes well for this summer’s David Brent big screen comeback Life On The Road.

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Loaded digital media manager Simon Reynolds has written about film and entertainment for various leading websites since 2008. Follow Simon at @simonreyn

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