SPECIAL CORRESPONDENTS (2016) Film Review from the 15th Annual Tribeca Film Festival, a movie directed by and starring Ricky Gervais, Eric Bana, Vera Farmiga, Kevin Pollak, Kelly McDonald, Benjamin Bratt, Raul Castillo and America Ferrera.
Netflix continues their trend of original films by teaming up with comedian Ricky Gervais for his latest directorial venture Special Correspondents. The streaming service has been struggling with their slate of feature-length comedies, and their latest one continues to damage their credibility in producing a really hilarious film.
Ricky Gervais is the man behind the satirical film, which he directed, written, produced, and stars in. The British comedian portrays Ian Finch, a radio technician for a low-level radio station in New York. He’s covered all kinds of world events without ever leaving the Big Apple and isn’t typically very bright. His life isn’t half as amazing as his colleague, reporter Frank Bonnerville (Eric Bana). Frank is a smooth and charming guy, who takes any assignment he is given, no matter how dangerous it is for him.
When war strikes in Ecuador, radio station chief Geoffrey Mallard (Kevin Pollak) sends Frank to cover the situation there. The third-rate radio station manages to cover their airfare to fly Frank and his main sound guy Ian to South America, hoping these two guys would cover the biggest story of their careers. Ian reluctantly accepts the assignment after finding out his unfaithful and self-absorbed wife Eleanor (Vera Farmiga) wants to break up their marriage. However, the two men’s trip of a lifetime is cut short when Ian unwittingly loses their plane tickets and passports on their way to the airport. In order to save their jobs, the two plan on hiding out in the city and use Ian’s sound equipment to fake their story about the war breaking out in Ecuador.
With the help of the mindless Spanish couple Brigida (America Ferrera) and Domingo (Raul Castillo) who run a small diner, the two men begin this charade of covering the frontlines at the comfort of their small apartment. Even though the story kind of feels weak, Ricky Gervais gives it his all with his comedic timing in some scenes. Gervais’ character often feels similar to his other roles in the past, yet it’s different from his outward personality in most of his films. His material can be funny at times, but it often feels flat with his character.
Eric Bana does let loose and have a bit a fun, especially coming off of some pretty dramatic roles. Bana originally started off in comedy in Australia, so seeing him get back to his comedic roots works out for him. Gervais is aware of the talent that Bana brings on screen, but he isn’t utilized very well in some scenes where the two click so well and end up not hitting the right notes. Vera Farmiga also steals the show with her self-centered character who takes advantage of her husband’s disappearance and uses it to propel her to fame among the American people.
The film at times often feels like an old buddy comedy that we’ve all seen before. Gervais doesn’t bring anything fresh on the table and uses some jokes that have been out-of-date. Special Correspondents feels like a film that feels stuck in the past and doesn’t feel modern to this generation. Despite adapting this film from a 2009 French film of the same name, Gervais fails to go over the edge with any satirical material that he is best known for. He could’ve gone all out and took aim at the news industry for the film, but instead he goes for the situational comedy.
However, Special Correspondents does make its way to insult the minority groups, especially Hispanics. The film portrays them as atrociously dumb or carelessly dangerous. That part of the film really comes into focus when the two men travel down to South America and we see the rainforest and the small village in the area. It would’ve been nice if they used the actual locales for both New York and Ecuador to bring the setting to life.
As a result, the film doesn’t fully showcase Ricky Gervais’ comedic chops and instead, we get a simple film that plays it safe and doesn’t take any jabs at the journalism field. Rather, Gervais makes fun of himself and gives some funny moments for Bana and Farmiga, but the jokes often fall short. It’s still a fun feature film for audiences, but we often wonder if Gervais could’ve given 100% of his personality into the film.
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