There’s no accounting for taste, but if you laugh at someone giving the alias “Frank Wankovich” to get into a place they shouldn’t then there really isn’t any hope for you at all. If you didn’t laugh at that, I’m afraid I have some bad news for you – SPECIAL CORRESPONDENTS doesn’t get much funnier.
Superstar radio correspondent Frank Bonneville (Eric Bana) and sound engineer Ian Finch (Ricky Gervais) are sent to Ecuador to report on the outbreak of a civil war. When they lose their plane tickets and passports, Frank and Ian decide to fake their reports stateside, until the situation escalates considerably as their lies becomes ever more elaborate and out of control.
Where did it go wrong? Well for a start, Vera Farmiga is so much better than this material. As Ian’s wife Eleanor, she gets one of the film’s only instances of real awareness, where she instantly susses Frank’s non-too-flattering deal-breaker for deciding who he sleeps with is merely down to how far away they live. She’s also responsible for the funniest, most skin-crawling section of the film where she breaks into an awful saccharine charity song seemingly promoting the search for her husband on a talk show. Eleanor is easily the most interesting character we meet, a creature of pure ego and no conscience, but you almost want Gervais to make her a bit nastier still to better contrast with the morally bereft Ian and Frank.
There’s precious little humanity in this story, and for something aiming to be a satire of the real world, that’s a fatal flaw. A blink-and-you’ll-miss it moment that should have been a more prominent moment in the film has America Ferrera’s dense but good-natured Brigida point out to the bickering pair of journalists that it would actually be a good thing if the civil war ended before they arrived to do their report. If only Gervais had the guts to push the criticism of how journalists cover disasters further, or even decided to make his jokes more crass or cringe-inducing as is his comedy hallmark.
What the film does attempt to discuss is people not caring about anything beyond getting the job done. It doesn’t matter at first to Ian and Frank that they’re faking it as long as they have something to show for it, that they can carry on doing what they want to do. It doesn’t matter to the radio station boss (Kevin Pollak) how much danger his reporters are in as long as they get they have something to show for it, that his radio station comes out on top.
It is true that as radio is an audio medium there is always the question of how do we know the voices we hear are really who and where they say they are? It’s an act of complete trust on the part of the listener. Also pretty amusing and almost thought-provoking is the idea that an unsubstantiated or outright made-up rumour could be embraced by and given a life of its own by news outlets were it not for journalistic ethics. Ian and Frank make someone up in their reports and others give this figure life at an alarming rate, but this doesn’t go anywhere.
Does nobody working on this film understand what “live” means? I know it’s meant to be played for comic effect, but anyone who’s ever listened to a report from a war correspondent on the radio knows there is at least some kind of delay and that they can’t really provide a live commentary to action going in around them, because no journalist is reckless enough to stand in the middle of it.
Even putting aside clumsy handling of the material and inaccuracies, this script just isn’t funny enough. Ricky Gervais is generally a good comic actor and an even better writer, but judging by Special Correspondents and THE INVENTION OF LYING from half a decade ago I’m not convinced he’s a director. There’s no discernible style to his films and when he is required to be in front of and behind the camera his contributions usually amount to gurning and setting punchlines up for the more talented performers in his cast. His upcoming David Brent film might fare better as he can focus on revisiting a character he loves, but here he’s just treading water. SSP