Special Correspondents is like a mish-mash of some great ideas that go absolutely nowhere. You have Ricky Gervais starring, writing and directing the picture, some good characters to serve as comic and romantic relief, and a potentially gut-busting premise of a journalist duo reporting fake war stories after their passports are lost. All that potential, however, feels fairly wasted on a narrative that just doesn’t know what to do with itself. Is it meant as a comedy? Can’t be, there are criminally few laughs to justify such an interesting idea. Perhaps it’s meant to be a social commentary on flash journalism and the sensationalism of “sob stories?” That’s not it either, as the issues are rarely touched upon. Instead of trying to do one thing really well with tighter direction and a funnier script, Special Correspondents tries to juggle numerous things at once, all while doing it mediocre at best.
Special Correspondents stars Ricky Gervais and Eric Bana as a pair of radio journalists assigned with going to Ecuador and covering the ongoing war. However, when they accidentally lose their passports on route to the airport, the two devise a plan to fake their news stories with sound effects and junk journalism over the radio, all while sitting above their favorite restaurant.
As far as the aforementioned positives go about this feature, there are some talented cast members here that do a good job with what they’re given. Vera Farminga does an excellent job of playing the despicable, cheating wife to Geravis’ character Ian Finch, and owns all her misdeeds like they were nothing. Considering the character takes advantage of the American public by raising money for her husband’s freedom from a hostage negotiation and keeping it all to herself (one of the film’s biggest highlights mind you), it’s nice to see Farminga having fun with the dastardly position. In addition, Spanish couple Brigida (America Ferrera) and Domingo (Raúl Castillo) serve as fun comic relief when they appear on-screen, which stinks considering that specific time on-screen is so short. However, when they do manage to get their fifteen seconds of fame, they’re guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.
Lastly, while the jokes are mostly a miss, some do hit fairly well. When Ricky Gervais is letting loose with his character and having fun, things begin to pick up for the better and demonstrate more of what this movie should have been. There are a few scenes where Gervais and Bana have to own how they’re in war-torn Ecuador while they’re walking down a busy American street, and it easily crafts some more of the finer moments this piece can offer to its audience. On a side note, I could see Eric Bana being a show stealing actor had he been given a better role.
Sadly, those few moments of joy aren’t enough to recommend sitting through this feature in its entirety. It advertises itself as a “satire,” but it says very little on real world issues to justify it being anything of the sort. Sure, the “Dollar for Our Heroes” movement and the cheating wife’s greed served as a good bit of satire against similar movements, but that’s all it ever ends up feeling like: a bit. It doesn’t go anywhere toward the end of the feature, so all we’re really left to work with is Bana and Gervais’ characters to keep things interesting, except they don’t. As much as I love Gervais, and could see myself enjoying Bana in other works, they just don’t have a good chemistry together. With the story being as scatter shot as it is, it’s a very major disappointment for anyone looking for some memorable laughs, as you’ll only be met with some passable chuckles.
I wanted to like this film, I really did. Yet, with such a great idea being wasted on a directionless story and little comedic wit, Special Correspondents ultimately comes across as a low point for Gervais. It’s not like we can make the excuse he was just given a bad script to work with, he wrote the script for pity’s sake. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything here to enjoy, there are genuine moments of glimmer that would’ve been comedic gold mines had they been in a better film. Fans of Gervais will probably find enough here to enjoy themselves, and if you do decide to watch this piece, I can’t see you regretting it. However, with the world filled with much funnier pieces that exploit their interesting ideas to the very last drop, why would you want to settle for less?