(US/Canada/UK - 2016)
Written and directed by Ricky Gervais. Cast: Ricky Gervais, Eric Bana, Vera Farmiga, Kelly Macdonald, Kevin Pollak, America Ferrera, Raul Castillo, Benjamin Bratt, Jim Norton, Kim Ramirez, Mimi Kuzyk. (Unrated, 101 mins)
The 2009 French comedy ENVOYES TRES SPECIAUX, where two Paris reporters file fake reports from the comforts of home while pretending to be covering an insurgency in Iraq, has been refashioned by writer/director/star Ricky Gervais into this toothless farce that's debuting as a Netflix original movie. Gervais has always been a master of cutting and often uncomfortable comedy, so the potential is there for some scathing digs at politics and the news media. It's all for naught, as Gervais just drops the ball and seems completely lost, relying on stale jokes (a "Go ahead, make my day" reference in 2016?) and painfully protracted set-ups for jokes that either land with a thud or never come at all. Making like Hope and Crosby on The Road to Nowhere, Gervais and Eric Bana star as, respectively, dweeby sound engineer Ian Finch and arrogant, smooth-talking news radio journalist Frank Bonneville. Handsome bullshit artist Frank is the superstar reporter at NYC-based news radio station Q365, and he and his de facto sidekick Finch are assigned by their blustery boss Mallard (Kevin Pollak) to cover a brewing insurgency in Ecuador. Just dumped by his shrewish, materialistic wife Eleanor (Vera Farmiga) and oblivious to the interest of nice, mousy Q365 reporter Claire Maddox (Kelly Macdonald), Finch decides to go along, tossing his suicide note to Eleanor in a garbage truck as they hail a cab to the airport. The problem is, Finch mistakenly threw out their passports, travel itinerary, and money instead of his epic suicide note. Rather than miss the story, Frank and Finch decide to fake it, hiding out in the apartment above a Mexican restaurant that's owned by Brigida (America Ferrera) and Domingo (Raul Castillo), and is directly across the street from the Q365 building.
WRONG IS RIGHT, which still isn't very funny but might be worth studying, as its barbs have grown even more prescient with age, almost a thematic precursor to THEY LIVE in the way it predicted the future in many respects. A completely asleep-at-the-wheel Gervais can't even be bothered to try when it comes to SPECIAL CORRESPONDENTS, a film nobody's going to remember next week, let alone look back on decades from now. It fails as satire, it fails as comedy, and it fails as anything even slightly resembling entertainment, and there's an almost Sandlerian laziness to the entire project. Is there even a target demographic for this thing? Who is it for? Why was it made? How is it possible that the creator of THE OFFICE and EXTRAS somehow managed to make an atrocious and incredibly dull WAG THE DOG knockoff with exactly zero laughs?