Written and directed by Ricky Gervais “Special Correspondents” is a Netflix Original remake of the 2009 French comedy “Envoyés très spéciaux” (So not quite too original after all.). Starring Gervais, Eric Bana, Vera Farmiga, America Ferrera, Kelly Macdonald and Kevin Pollak (with a cameo by Benjamin Brat) the film retells the tale of two radio journalists who miss their flight to cover a war (insurgence) in Ecuador. They decide to hide in New York, their port of origin, and cover the conflict from the loft of a friend’s house.
Bana is Frank, a local radio “newsman” who is a legend in his own mind and has a mini following of fans in his neighborhood. Gervais is the radio sound engineer, and Englishman aboard, Ian Finch. Farmiga is Eleanor, Ian’s wife and natural self promoter and MacDonald’s character Claire has a thing for co-worker Ian. Pollack is the man in charge of the radio station.
Finch’s wife kicks him out of the house after sleeping with Frank and in his misery Ian inadvertently throws away the tickets, expense money and passports needed for the journey to Ecuador.
Hiding out at Brigida and Domingo’s house, the men set up and begin transmitting from the location across the street from their offices at the news station. This allows for some funny interaction between Brigida (Ferrera) and Domingo (Raúl Castillo) as the journalist and his technician report on a conflict they are half a world away from.
Perhaps the only real complaint is the focus on radio news. (Although there are several instances where broadcasts are referred to as podcasts, presumably in an attempt to bring the film’s plot up to more modern times.) In this day and age of Internet coverage, even from major networks, it seems that the radio angle is a bit outdated.
While this movie is based upon the two men, Bana and Gervais, it is the women who steal the show here. Farmiga’s opportunistic and enterprising wife who writes a song about her husband’s captivity “A Dollar for a Hero,” is brilliantly funny and is a favorite character. The other female to yank this film from under the feet of the male co-stars is “Ugly Betty/Superstore” star America Ferrera.
Ferrera is hysterically funny as the rather simplistic cafe owner who delivers her lines with an impeccable honesty that just kills comically. Whether commiserating over Finch’s wife selling his “dollies” (his superhero collectables) or shouting out Tío Miguel (because he is deaf) America is one of the most amusing characters on the screen.
Both Gervais and Bana do well in their roles but lack the naturalistic comedy emitted by both Farmiga and Ferrara. Bana wisely plays his role straighter than straight as does Gervais. The two work well together as reluctant colleagues in their unplanned subterfuge.
Not having watched the original French version, set against a conflict in Iraq, it is hard to compare the two films. The American iteration includes a shootout and an escape. It is a funny sort of scene and no one appears to die.
Cinematographer Terry Stacey makes the film look brilliant.
There are moments in the feature where Gervais pokes fun at Fox News, specifically Bill O’Reilly, and clearly Benjamin Brat’s character was meant to be Brian Williams. There is also a segment where the rebel leader, made up by Frank, undergoes a sort of news anchor Chinese whispers. The last one in the chain is clearly O’Reilly and it was funny.
“Special Correspondents” is not a parody of global news coverage, although it does jab a few “American news institutions” and pokes fun at the need for “instant” news regardless of sources or verification.
Fans of Gervais will appreciate the film and his wearing of three hats for the production. At 100 minutes the movie is not overly long and the pacing works very well. At no point does one get bored or reach for the remote to fast forward the events on screen.
As a straight to Netflix production; “Special Correspondents” garners a full 4 stars. It is funny, fast paced and while Farmiga and Ferrera almost steal the film, everyone delivers a performance that lacks nothing. Watch this one for a giggle or two and some outright guffaws at America’s portrayal of Brigida.