'Special Correspondents': Ricky Gervais Comedy Is Nothing Special

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·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
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  • Ricky Gervais
    Ricky Gervais
    English comedian, actor, director, producer, musician, writer, and former radio presenter
  • Eric Bana
    Eric Bana
    Australian film and television actor
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Special Correspondents, a Netflix Original production that starts streaming on Friday, stars Ricky Gervais and Eric Bana as New York City news-radio employees assigned to cover a revolution in Ecuador — a premise that strains credulity right from the start. How many commercial radio stations dispatch reporters to war zones these days? But that’s the least of Special Correspondents’s problems.

Gervais, who wrote and directed, plays radio engineer Ian Finch, whom we’re supposed to think is — well, I’ll quote the description of him provided by Bana’s character — “an ugly runt mongrel dog that no one wants.” Certainly Ian’s wife, played by Bates Motels Vera Farmiga, who’s portrayed as a cold meanie, doesn’t want Ian. Bana’s Frank Bonneville, on the other hand, is a handsome fellow who gets by on faking his dashing bravado.

The movie is meant to be a comic mix-up romp: Ian loses their passports, so he and Frank have to pretend they’re reporting from Ecuador, even though they’re holed up in a Manhattan apartment close by the station run by their boss, played by Kevin Pollack. The duo fakes newscasts and manage to fool everyone — the film asks us to believe that the very top ranks of U.S. intelligence is embarrassed and galvanized into action because they think Ian and Frank have been taken hostage by a revolutionary cell the government did not know existed.

Throughout, Gervais tries to work a more likable variation on the boob he played so well on The Office and the snarky guy he portrays during his Golden Globes hosting stints. The result is that his Ian is just a cowardly wimp who’s easily confused. The jokes Gervais has written for himself are on this level: “You’ve got to grow a pair!” yells Frank; “Of breasts?” Ian responds, baffled.

One of Ian’s co-workers, played by Kelly Mac Donald, is unaccountably attracted to him, and so Special Correspondents attempts to turn its comedy romantic at various points, without much conviction. I would mention that America Ferrera appears in a small role, but why drag her into this? The entire production seems like a half-hour comedy special that got stretched out to feature-length.

Special Correspondents is streaming now on Netflix.