Satirical comedies use humour to expose and ridicule human stupidity often in relation to politics and other contemporary issues. In this sense, Special Correspondents cannot be classed as a satirical comedy – there’s no laughs, there’s no political critique, there’s no real-life relevance. This remake of 2009 French film Envoyés Très Spéciaux marks a career low for Ricky Gervais, and those expecting the wince-inducing laughs of The Office or the razor-sharp viciousness of his Golden Globe performances will be left thoroughly disappointed.
The very first shot sets off alarm bells – a night-time pan of the New York skyline is about the most clichéd, pedestrian opening to a film possible. Right after, we meet Frank Bonneville (Eric Bana), a super suave New York radio journalist and womanizer who’s really cool because he strolls confidently down the street with a pair of sunglasses on. When station boss Geoffrey Mallard (Kevin Pollark) appoints Frank to cover an uprising in Ecuador, he enlists the help of radio technician Ian Finch (Ricky Gervais).
We can tell Ian’s a hapless geek because he collects superhero action figures and plays video games and of course he spoils the plan – accidentally placing their passports in a garbage truck. So the pair decide that the most sensible, foolproof reaction is to pretend they’re broadcasting from Ecuador when, in fact, they’re hiding out in a café opposite the radio station owned by a good-natured South American couple (played by America Ferrara and Raúl Castillo). The pair fake regular news reports, aided by a series of digital sound effects, and manage to deceive everyone until they are forced to stage their own kidnapping and must smuggle themselves into Ecuador after all.
Although Special Correspondent’s story is intended to be somewhat farcical, it frequently challenges credibility; the alarmingly low joke count and clumsy plot contrivances expose its absurd tone as a guise for lazy, inexplicable storytelling. For a film written, directed and starring Ricky Gervais, the absence of literally any intelligent, witty laughs is the narrative’s most shocking revelation.
The smattering of actual gags deal in the most lowest-common denominator stuff which will barely register a chuckle from even the most undemanding of audiences. What makes this all the more disheartening is that there’s plenty of good set ups for laughter, including a scene where Ian and Frank have to film their own hostage video, but the script botches these opportunities; looking for humour that never arrives.
Special Correspondents disappoints at every turn, including in its attempt (or lack of) at satire. A couple of half-hearted references to the media’s manipulation of war reportage aside, the film is empty of any relevant, purposeful critique, humorous or otherwise. It’s not what you’d expect in a ‘satirical comedy’ from one of the most notoriously outspoken and controversial comedians on the planet.
Ironically, the film’s own dubious racial politics could very easily become subject of potential satire. All foreigners in Special Correspondents are either presented as dimwits or sinister murderers, with Ecuador portrayed as an unfriendly, backwards country. The whole thing just has no resonance or relevance to our contemporary society whatsoever.
On top of this, all of the characters are two-dimensional, unbelievable and dislikable. Ian and Frank have no real depth, an odd-ball pairing we’ve seen a hundred times before in better, funnier movies. Worst, however, is Vera Farmiga as Ian’s unfaithful wife Eleanor Finch, who’s a superficial, insulting, manipulative caricature with not one redeeming feature. But at least Eleanor is given a purpose, unlike Ian’s co-worker Claire (Kelly Macdonald), whose one role is to worry about and be inexplicably besotted with Ian for no apparent reason. There’s no quirks or endearingly original qualities to these hackneyed characters, which makes it hard care about anything that happens to them.
The filmmaking is equally as dull. Gervais’ direction is perfunctory, uninspired and fails to make use of the comedic potential of editing, sound and framing. Special Correspondents should fly by at a breezy 100 minutes but a lack of funny jokes, stylistic edge and scathing satire sees it plod along for what seems like an eternity. For such a distinctive comedic, boundary-pushing talent such as Gervais, this is a drab, conventional, blunt affair which offers nothing original, interesting, thought-provoking or memorable and surely marks his worst writing, directional and acting work to date.
Special Correspondents is a flimsy, irrelevant, unfunny 'satirical comedy' which adds up to nothing much at all.