Suspension of disbelief is maybe the most important ingredient in drama — on film, stage or TV. We need to believe the characters, the situations, in order to empathize with those characters and lose ourselves in the story.
That one most important building block is missing from the frankly half-arsed Ricky Gervais farce, a “Netflix Original Movie” “Special Correspondents.”
Never, for one moment, does anything in this resemble radio news reporting the way it is now or has ever been. Gervais plainly did zero homework.
Never for one moment to we believe the swaggering rogue reporter at an obscenely-over-equipped New York station. We don’t believe Eric Bana is a reporter. We don’t believe this operation, which includes the given-nothing-to-do co-stars Kevin Pollack and Kelly Macdonald.
We might be almost amused by the caricatured Latino restaurant owners played by America Ferrara and Raul Castillo. But we don’t believe them, either.
It’s all a lie, a joke with a feeble set-up and pathetic thud of a payoff. What’s hardest to believe is that Gervais kept his name on this abortion. But excising it would have been tricky.
Writer-director-co-star Gervais, playing a loser-producer who loses his and his reporter’s tickets and passports to a war zone, decides to “fake” going to Ecuador, using “sound environments” (sound effects) to pretend to be in a tropical war zone. Bana’s star reporter character, wanting to save his job, goes along with it.
“You need to grow a pair,” Frank Bonneville (Bana) snaps.
“What, breasts?” poor Ian, whose wife has just left him, asks.
That’s the caliber of jokes here. Perhaps Gervais needed a beer or three (Golden Globes hosting) or to script this the way he writes those burning, pithy tweets that light up the Internet.
Ian and Frank hole up in their favorite Mexican restaurant. They get the owners to shout things in Spanish in the background of jungle birds, gunfire and helicopters sound effects Ian conjures up.
“Real Madrid!” “Julio Iglesias!”
Amazingly, knowing little about the country, and not having anyone on scene in INTERVIEW — that magic thing that radio and sometimes TV reporters do to PROVE they’re in a place and actually REPORTING there — their boss (Pollack) buys into it.
So they get bolder, inventing facts that no one actually there (Benjamin Bratt plays a TV reporter) can easily disprove.
Vera Farmiga plays Ian’s wife and has a delightfuly snappy flirtation/seduction with Bonneville/Bana.
Aside from her, there’s nothing to recommend this at all. Poor Macdonald only showed up to practice doing an American accent.
Gervais fans may be willing to bend over backwards to allow his special comic genius to finally reveal itself, but to no avail. A guy whose hosting gigs and nuclear Twitter put- downs are legendary has nothing to say about media, love, marriage, integrity or anything else here. Nothing at all, much less anything funny.
His character fakes going to Ecuador to cover a story. Gervais fakes caring about character, jokes or doing the work to make “Special Correspondents” come off.
He’s never made a worse film. And topping that, he’s never made a lazier one.
MPAA Rating: TV MA, profanity, sexual situations
Cast: Eric Bana, Ricky Gervais, America Ferrara, Vera Farmiga, Kelly Macdonald, Benjamin Bratt, Raul Castillo
Credits: Written and directed by Ricky Gervais. A Netflix original release.
Running time: 1:49