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Special Correspondents

May 7, 2016

Special Correspondents (2016)
Director: Ricky Gervais
Actors: Ricky Gervais, Eric Bana, Vera Farmiga

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Synopsis: Egotistical radio journalist, Frank (Eric Bana), and his nerdy technician, Ian (Ricky Gervais), are forced into improvising their bulletins from a café in New York when they lose their passports and airline tickets to war-torn Ecuador.

Review: Special Correspondents is yet another case for the fundamental issue in Ricky Gervais’ relationship with Hollywood and the cinematic medium in general. Gervais’ modus operandi is to wrap ingenious skits and initially wry conceits – natural by-products of his unquestionable talents as a stand-up comedian and sitcom specialist – in rote and prototypical formulas. Incidentally, I wrote about this paradigm more substantially in the wake of his 2009 film, The Invention of Lying:

It’s impossible to even make the case that Gervais is sending Hollywood or homogenised storytelling up in his works. Their conventionality is more a case of his clear inculcation by the mainstream, and also the fact that he’s evidently not a seasoned screenwriter or cinephile, as he unable to develop initially interesting ideas into a longer format or in a genuinely inventive way. Take this film’s very plausible conceit of Gervais’ nerdy technician and Eric Bana’s alpha-male journalist having to ‘comically’ manufacture broadcasts from a seemingly war-torn Ecuador in the Latin café across from their very offices in New York. There is real meat in this scenario – Peter Strickland mined this ‘sound recording’ conceit in a much richer way in his clever homage to giallo cinema, Berberian Sound Studio – but Gervais’ intentions are so meek, so mainstream, with stereotypical satires of the lovely but parochial Latin café owners, and his own character’s lame and sentimental arc as someone much more suited to Kelly Macdonald’s mousy journalist over his complete plot-device of a vampish wife – gamely, but completely jarringly, portrayed by Vera Farmiga.

With news that Gervais is bringing his seminal comic creation, David Brent, back to our screens this summer, it’s a sign that he’s either recognised where his talents best lay or tacit admission that he’s run out of any better ideas. Unfortunately, with the evidence of Special Correspondents, I side with the latter reading. (May 2016)

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