Ricky Gervais’s brand of comedy is like a venomous spider bite – it burns and stings. Despite pissing people off time and time again, he’s been brought back to host the Golden Globes time and again. He’s the creator of the original “The Office” and the HBO series “Extras.” His wit and satire are bitter, acerbic and offensive in the best way possible. Gervais only hits a comedic snag when he transitions to mainstream filmmaking.
His movies are star-studded, yet modest projects. They intend to impart satirical messages about society, but end up falling flat before the end credits roll. His most interesting and creative one so far was “The Invention of Lying,” which depicts a world where dishonesty simply doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, such a novel concept wasn’t able to sustain itself for an hour and forty minutes.
Gervais recently took the Sandler route and made a movie for Netflix called “Special Correspondents,” which was released on the streaming site last week. As usual, he wrote, directed and starred in what’s supposed to be a critique of modern yellow journalism. The ‘novelty’ though has already been done in 2013 by Adam McKay’s “Anchorman 2,” and nearly 20 years ago by Barry Levinson’s “Wag The Dog.”
Already dating the plot, “Correspondents” is about Frank Bonneville (Eric Bana), a hotshot radio news reporter who works for a nondescript New York radio news station. He plays by his own rules (in the opening scene he impersonates a homicide detective and takes a bite out of a crime scene crumpet) and believes himself destined for journalistic greatness. He’s more Eastwood than Cronkite, but one more bout of rule-breaking and his boss (Kevin Pollack) will give him the boot.
The action picks up when Frank is assigned to cover a revolution in Ecuador with nebbishy sound engineer Ian Finch (Gervais). Finch is the usual Gervais archetype: the chubby down-on-his-luck British schlub who everyone likes to take advantage of. Due to some marital problems and similar-looking envelopes, the radio duo loses the plane tickets and passports. To avoid getting in trouble with the brass, they do the only logical thing: shack up at the cafe across the street from the radio station and fake all the revolution-related news, even going so far as to make up the leader of the resistance.
Like any good charade, the ruse gets out of hand as the American public begins to buy their brand of phony updates. Soon, the rebels are looking for them and the State Department wants them to get to the American embassy before they’re killed. Destroying their SIM cards and faking a hostage video, they must find a way to actually get to Ecuador or go to jail.
Yet, your favorite characters probably won’t be the selfish Bonneville or the nerdy Finch; they’ll be the lovably naive Spanish couple and owners of the cafe (America Ferrera and Raul Castillo) who help the two pull off the hoax.
While that’s going on, Ian’s louse of a wife (Vera Farmiga, in an extremely unlikable role) writes a song about the hostages, which is just a scam for fame and money. Ian’s co-worker and love interest Claire Maddox is a criminally underused Kelly Macdonald who can’t really hide her native Scottish accent.
The hackneyed, but funny concept is elusive and the movie just peters out by the end, spending way too much time on Finch’s horrible person of a wife and not enough time on the faux journalism and the public’s reaction, which are the film’s most enjoyable aspects. By the “Tropic Thunder”-esque ending, the thing is just boring and you couldn’t care less about two dudes who commit a felony, fool the American people and end up getting rewarded for it. Social commentary or not, “Special Correspondents” is no news worth writing home about.