Tuesday, February 14, 2017


(UK - 2016; US release 2017)

Written and directed by Ricky Gervais. Cast: Ricky Gervais, Ben Bailey Smith, Dan Basden, Jo Hartley, Tom Bennett, Andrew Brooke, Andy Burrows, Stuart Wilkinson, Steve Clarke, Michael Clarke, Mandeep Dhillon, Miles Chapman, Abbie Murphy, Rebecca Gethings, Nina Sosanya, Diane Morgan. (Unrated, 96 mins)

With only 12 episodes over its two series and a two-part Christmas special to wrap things up, the original UK version of THE OFFICE ran from 2001 to 2003 and didn't have a chance to wear out its welcome. Ricky Gervais doesn't seem to realize that, so now we have the feature film spinoff DAVID BRENT: LIFE ON THE ROAD, making its US debut as a Netflix Original after opening to lukewarm reviews in the UK last summer. Gervais and Stephen Merchant created the show, but Gervais is flying solo here, resurrecting his OFFICE character David Brent, the well-meaning but socially inept and endlessly delusional and self-aggrandizing office manager of the Slough branch of the Wernham Hogg paper company, perpetually playing to the cameras documenting the office's day-to-day activities for a BBC documentary series. It's been 13 years since the Christmas special, which found the hapless Brent trying to parlay his dubious TV documentary fame into a pop music career by blowing his severance pay on a music video for his cover of "If You Don't Know Me By Now."  In the present day, Brent's still chasing that dream, taking time off from his sales rep job peddling tampons and toilet brushes for the bathroom supply company Lavichem and bringing along another documentary crew as he assembles a new version of his extremely short-lived '80s band Foregone Conclusion to go on a three week tour.

Latching himself to rapper and acquaintance Dom Johnson (Ben Bailey Smith, also known as British rapper and comedian Doc Brown) and sound engineer Dan (Tom Basden), Brent hires a band of mercenary session guys as the original lineup of Foregone Conclusion either has family priorities, isn't interested, or in the case of the guitarist, is in jail for sexual assault. The new Foregone Conclusion wants nothing to do with Brent, who's paying them a ridiculous amount of money and has even rented a top-of-the-line tour bus even though, as Dan informs him, the gigs are all in such close proximity that would actually be easier to drive home every night rather than waste money on hotel rooms and meals. But being a clueless poseur with an ever-present white man's overbite, Brent only knows how to overdo everything. He's also completely oblivious when the band wants nothing to do with him, even banishing him from the tour bus when he boards it invoking the ancient "Whazzzzzzuppppp?" catchphrase and is told to follow the bus in his own car. The gigs are a disaster, as Foregone Conclusion repeatedly plays to almost completely empty clubs and Brent predictably manages to alienate the few people who do show up by delivering a de facto monologue about what every song means rather than just simply playing it (Coldplay frontman Chris Martin helped Gervais write most of Foregone Conclusion's songs). Other cringe-worthy moments involve him shooting an audience member in the face with a Foregone Conclusion shirt fired in close proximity from a T-shirt gun, or a culturally tone-deaf reggae tune that Dom Johnson is embarrassed to rap over, or performing a heartfelt ballad called "Please Don't Make Fun of the Disableds," The "tour" keeps Brent cashing in his pensions and maxing out his credit card, and the band holds him in such disdain that they won't even have a drink with him after the show unless they're paid for their time and he buys the drinks.

During its original run, THE OFFICE was brilliantly funny and a standard-bearer in the comedy of grueling discomfort, but all these years later, Gervais can't really do anything new with the Brent character. He's still behaving in the same fashion, and still alienating almost everyone with whom he comes into contact (though shy Pauline, a Lavichem co-worker played by Jo Hartley, obviously and inexplicably has a crush on him), usually with insensitive jokes, as when he's called into Lavichem's HR office after back-to-back cracks involving violence against women and his doing a buck-toothed "Chinaman" impression that would've been offensive in the 1940s. Other than a few bits--getting kicked off his own tour bus, falling down on stage after trying to do a "back-to-back" stage pose with the lead guitarist--David Brent simply isn't that funny anymore and Gervais is just going through the motions. We know that, despite his idiotic behavior, everyone from the band to his Lavichem co-workers will come around to appreciating him on his own terms, giving Brent a redemptive and wholly unearned feel-good ending. Gervais seems to struggle with this sort of thing when Merchant isn't around, and while his HBO series HELLO LADIES lost its way near the end of its lone season, there was enough there in its best episodes to indicate that it was perhaps Merchant who was the secret weapon behind the signature cringe success of THE OFFICE and EXTRAS. With more than a passing resemblance to THIS IS SPINAL TAP and the underrated STILL CRAZY, there's a handful of legitimate laughs to be had with DAVID BRENT: LIFE ON THE ROAD and to its credit, it's better than Gervais's last Netflix Original effort (the dismal SPECIAL CORRESPONDENTS). But there's an undeniable "beating a dead horse" vibe to the whole thing as the writer/director/star coasts by on past glory, falling far short of recapturing that magic from a decade and a half ago.

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