Despite the huge critical and commercial success of Extras and The Office, victory in the cinematic arena continues to elude Ricky Gervais. After the abysmal The Invention of Lying (2009), Gervais has missed the mark again with Special Correspondents, a lacklustre comedy that’s big on absurdity but surprisingly low on laughs.
The story follows two radio journalists, suave Frank Bonneville (Eric Bana) and downtrodden Ian Finch (Ricky Gervais) who has just been dumped by his social-climbing wife Eleanor (Vera Farmiga). When the hapless pair are sent on an assignment to war-torn Ecuador and lose their flight tickets, money and passports before even reaching the airport, they resolve to fake their news broadcasts from an apartment above a New York restaurant instead. Soon, the bogus reports gain national recognition and larger news outlets race to compete with their fictional coverage.
Aside from the fact that all the action hinges on a nonsensical plot contrivance (why can’t Frank and Ian simply apply for new passports? Doesn’t the radio station have insurance? What kind of small-time local radio stations has the resources to cover international stories on the ground anyway?) Special Correspondents is simply not funny enough. And while the cast is promising on paper, the on-screen chemistry between Bana and Gervais is seriously lacking.
There is a bud of an interesting idea in Special Correspondents that sadly never blossoms under the weight of Gervais’ stolid script. While the film flirts with the idea of lampooning the media and the complicity of a public that unquestionably believes the drivel pumped out by 24hr news stations, it seems to lose is nerve halfway and never quite goes far enough to become the blistering satire it wants to be.
Somehow the biting wit, character-driven comedy and toe-curling human observation that have become hallmarks of Gervais’ writing and direction disintegrate when he turns his hand to feature films. While not entirely dreadful, Special Correspondents is certainly no good.