Movie Review: ‘Special Correspondents’
Starring: Eric Bana, Ricky Gervais, and Vera Farmiga
Plot: When 2 reporters lose their plane tickets and passports on the way to the airport, they set up across the street from their radio station and fake news coverage.
British comedian, Ricky Gervais, has become infamous for personifying the fine line between sarcastically funny and being just a plain asshole. He is inching ever so closely to being just an asshole ever since splitting with his long time collaborator, Stephen Merchant, whose own solo work has also suffered without Gervais’ complimentary sense of humor.
Gervais cast himself as Albert Finch, a sound engineer who works for the fictional 24 hour news radio station, Q365. He is a collector of comic memorabilia and spends most of his free time playing video games on his phone. He is a nebbish Wood-Allen-esque underdog. His wife, Eleanor (played by Vera Farmiga), is out of his league and getting less and less satisfied with their life together. When a civil war breaks out in Ecuador, Albert gets the chance to join bad boy journalist, Frank Bonneville (played by Eric Bana) on his trip to cover it. Frank is the type of journo who gloms onto some key pieces of information and then invents unnecessary details to pull in his viewers, a true product of the 24 hour news cycle. Bana’s history of improv and variety show comedy is worthless here as he plays the same kind of too cool male lead that you might find in a Katherine Heigl rom-com, the kind where he learns how to be a better man. Except in this movie, he never does.
When they lose their tickets and passport on the way to the airport, they are too ashamed to crawl back into their office tail between their legs. Instead, they set up shop across the street in the apartment of a young Hispanic couple who run the ground floor restaurant. From there, Frank puts his spin skills to the test and phones in frontline reports from across the street. It works for awhile, until they try to up the ante by claiming to be kidnapped by a group of revolutionaries and getting the government involved in their possible rescue.
From here, Gervais constructs a pretty rickety condemnation of the 24 hour news cycle, getting in little jabs when he can. One such jab features a montage of varying news anchor caricatures all putting their own spin on the false story, but they never fully committing to the premise. It certainly doesn’t help that the movie seems to be completely bereft of any comedy. I don’t mean the movie just failed to be funny, rather the movie seems to be one premise after another with very few true punchlines in between.
However, Vera Farmiga steals the show as Albert’s not-so-depressed wife. She seems like a more fitting lead character to poke more satirical fun at the current nature of news media. She stifles the joy she feels for finally being free of Albert and takes the opportunity to promote her debut album with a patriotism pandering song about her POW husband. She also starts a relief charity that earns her millions. Her deadpan wit is more like the biting comedy we have come to expect from Gervais rather then the adventure-of-errors it devolves into, the kind of overly conceptual ’80s comedy that might feature John Candy or a pre-prestige-picture Tom Hanks.