Special Correspondents is the latest high-profile Netflix exclusive feature film; this time it's English comedian Ricky Gervais at the helm, writing, directing and starring alongside Eric Bana as two radio journalists who're swept up in a lie that threatens both of their careers.
Gervais plays Ian Finch, a meek radio technician whose imposing wife Eleanor (Vera Farmiga) treats him like a doormat. Working for a dingy local New York radio station, Ian and hotshot reporter Frank Bonneville (Bana) are tasked with travelling to Ecuador to cover a fierce civil war that has engulfed the country - except, at the last minute, Ian loses their passports and the duo decide to fake their reports instead, setting up shop in a Spanish restaurant across the street from their workplace where they can discreetly broadcast 'live from Ecuador'.
It's hard to pinpoint where Special Correspondents falls flat, but if I had to guess it'd be something really broad like 'the humour' - it's not just your typical Ricky Gervais cringe-inducing awkwardness; the jokes, the characters and the whole affair is more straight-faced and mean spirited than that.
A lot of the dialogue just doesn't pop like you'd hope; Bana and Gervais make for an interesting comedy duo, and whilst some of their vicious barbs are particularly tickling, the majority of the gags just linger a little too long and fail to pack a punch. Plus, the dim-witted Spanish couple (played by America Ferrera and Raul Castillo) who offer Ian and Frank a place to stage their faux radio show are embarrassing to behold.
As a parody of the media and the constant pursuit of juicy exclusives, Special Correspondents does make some pretty astute observations. One sequence where other journalists, who're actually in Ecuador, begin to mimic Bonneville's bullshit statements is a clever plot development, but unfortunately this is about as far as it goes.
The thin premise runs its course pretty quick and the believability becomes more than a little sketchy as the film goes on. I mean, c'mon - why would a radio journalist be asked to only provide audio reports from the ground and not gather any footage of the war? I mean, you've flown all the way to Ecuador on the dime of the station - and the editor back home is perfectly happy with sporadic two-minute bursts of ambiguous, waffly monologuing? They're not fussed about getting any first-hand footage?
The acting was surprisingly stilted also; Gervais is bereft of energy whilst Bana struggles to reprise his comedic roots. Farmiga is detestable from the get-go, with the only likeable character coming in the form of Kelly McDonald's coworker Claire.
I also wasn't a huge fan of the direction. It just feels so flat and dull. The editing and framing is still and lifeless, and the overall aesthetic is drained of colour. I don't know what it is (probably the low budget, as Gervais wryly muses at the end of the film), but Special Correspondents is really bland and uninteresting to look at.
The Verdict: 3.5/10
Gervais sleepwalks through this latest project, reaching for an amusing satire of the nightly news whirlwind but ultimately only grasping a thin premise that sits idle while any pretence of potential wafts away. It does have its moments (read: very few), but this latest Netflix feature film struggles to engage or entertain for more than the opening 30 minutes.
Special Correspondents is streaming exclusively via Netflix now