Special Correspondents embodies everything you’ve come to expect from the term “direct-to-DVD movie”, though in this case the film is being released on demand through the streaming service Netflix. This Ricky Gervais-starring-and-directed feature has some grand ambitions, but thanks to uninspired characters and a patchy plot-line, you’ll likely find yourself quickly tuning out. Special Correspondents is less mean-spirited than much of the controversial Brit’s body of work, but it’s no less lacking in the quality department.
If you like your comedies particularly far-fetched then you may find something to enjoy about Special Correspondents’ ridiculous narrative. The film, which is actually a remake of a French film released in 2009, sees a smug radio host and his bumbling technician forced to pretend they’re in a war-torn country after a mix-up. It’s an outlandish and frankly rather asinine concept, the sort of story that could be resolved in minutes with the application of even a small bit of common sense.
Though Special Correspondents keeps things generally predictable, the third act does take the film to an unexpected place. It doesn’t necessarily work, but credit must be given to Gervais for at least attempting to branch out from the typical formula these types of movies take. The two men, played by Gervais and Eric Bana, spend the majority of the film camped out in a Spanish couple’s house broadcasting fake news reports while pretending to be in civil-war-consumed Ecuador, eventually staging their own kidnapping at the hands of mercenaries. The film gets little mileage out of the initial setup and takes far too long to develop the plot further once the basic framework has been established.
Because of this, Special Correspondents relies heavily on its cast to keep its audience engaged. Gervais and Bana sitting in a loft isn’t itself very compelling, so the two men need to sell themselves to the viewer. Neither is up to the task. Eric Bana’s Frank Bonneville is a larger-than-life, arrogant reporter who acts like he’s a rock star and takes frequent pokes at Gervais’ weight and height. While the amount of work Gervais has clearly put into the film is admirable, his character (named Ian Finch) is the same one the actor has been portraying for the best part of a decade in films such as The Invention of Lying and Ghost Town. A down-on-his-luck, slightly nerdy everyman who must prove he’s not a useless loser? Yawn. Its classic Gervais and at this point it’s a role he’s played so many times that seeing it again isn’t exactly an attractive proposition.
A secondary thread is thrown into the mix concerning Gervais’ character’s wife, played by Vera Farmiga. When the film starts the two are all but separated and she sees her husband’s capture as a chance to catapult herself to stardom. Farmiga is supposed to be the film’s semi-antagonist, but she’s far too comically evil to be taken seriously. As she warbles through a charity single asking America to donate a dollar to help bring back her husband, the money-hungry gleam in her eye is supposed to be enraging but is instead simply hilarious in all the wrong ways. Special Correspondents puts far too much of a focus on her character, neglecting the two leads in favour of showing her partake in puff interviews and fashion shoots.
Special Correspondents spends much of its hour-and-forty-minute running time taking thinly veiled satirical swipes at the current media climate. The film attempts to comment on the gossipy nature of journalism and how headlines and page clicks are prioritised over the truth. Farmiga’s character is also clearly a jab at society’s obsession with fame and using tragic circumstances to increase the size of our bank accounts. The social commentary doesn’t really hit the mark; it’s so patronisingly obvious and beaten into the ground that eventually you’ll find yourself not caring what Special Correspondents has to say simply because you just want it to shut up.
Special Correspondents does have a few solid laughs, which practically all come from Gervais’ bemusement at the ridiculousness frequently surrounding him. Like almost every aspect of the film, its comedic credentials aren’t really up to snuff. Netflix have been making strong original programming for several years now, but their advancements into feature films have been disappointing at best and downright appalling at worst. Special Correspondents falls somewhere in the middle, which is a polite way of saying it’s certainly not worth your time.