Ricky Gervais

David Brent: Life On The Road

life_on_the_road

01/09/16

We’re uncharacteristically late to this party. As reviewers at the Edinburgh Festival,  we really didn’t have much opportunity to make it to the cinema during August, so we caught this just as it was ending its run at the local multiplex.

One thing is for sure. After the laughter-free zone that was Special Correspondents, and the misfires of Derek and Life Is Short, Ricky Gervais is knocking on the door of Last Chance Saloon. And most of the reviews we’ve seen so far have been decidedly hostile, so our expectations are low. So it’s heartening to report that Life On The Road isn’t half as bad as it’s been painted up to be; and while it might not be as funny as The Office, it’s still loaded with scenes of extreme pathos and toe-curling embarrassment in equal measure.

Brent is no longer a leader of men. These days he’s a lowly salesperson for cleaning product company, Lavichem, and is mostly despised and openly derided by his fellow workers. Worn down by the futility of his existence, he’s cashed in some pensions and is gambling it all on one last roll of the dice, putting together a new version of his old band, Foregone Conclusion and embarking on a mini tour of the back end of nowhere. Perhaps in a bid for credibility with younger audiences, he’s also roped in young rapper, Dom (Doc Brown) for the ride, but, like the other musicians caught up in the experience, Dom is embarrassed even to be seen onstage with the man who has sunk his life savings into this doomed enterprise.

Gervais has written some decent songs for this, sprightly tunes that are beautifully undermined by appallingly well-meant-but-insensitive lyrics – Native American is a particular delight. Certain parts of the story (when, for instance, Brent talks about the nervous breakdown he suffered after leaving Wernham Hogg) are skilfully handled, tugging at the heartstrings more than the giggle-muscles, while other moments are so embarrassing it’s hard to watch. It’s a narrow line, but Gervais treads the right side of it here. Brent’s racism, for example, is perfectly observed: a squirming, ill-informed attempt at political correctness that creates the very problems Brent is anxious to avoid. It’s a comedy of awkwardness, and it’s excruciating to watch.

It really does feel like Gervais has redeemed himself with this; it will be interesting to see where he goes next.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Advertisements

Special Correspondents

Special1

01/05/16

Whatever happened to Ricky Gervais? The glory days of The Office and Extras are now long gone and his occasional forays into cinema have amounted to a few average cameos in other people’s movies and the woeful laughter-free zone that was The Invention of Lying. His new movie, Special Correspondents, is a Netflix original (though actually not original at all, as it’s a remake of 2009 French comedy, Envoyes Tres Speciaux). And, though it pains me to say it, it’s a disaster – a ‘comedy’ that fails to raise so much as a smirk.

Gervais plays Ian Finch, a hapless sound engineer working alongside charmless, bombastic reporter, Frank Bonneville (Eric Bana) who has alienated all his colleagues at 365 News and  is now residing at Last Chance Saloon. Ian’s other workmate, Claire Maddox (Kelly McDonald) is the closest thing to a sympathetic character you’ll find in this sorry tale and she isn’t really given all that much to do. Ian is also lumbered with a shrew of a wife, Eleanor (Vera Farmiga) who has all the inherent charm of a car crash and who gleefully cheats on Ian with Frank (though to be fair, Frankdoesn’t know at the time who she is married to).

When a civil war breaks out in Ecuador, Ian and Frank are despatched to cover the story, but Ian, upset by the fact that Eleanor has just walked out on him, accidentally throws their tickets and passports into a passing garbage lorry, leaving them stranded in the USA. Realising that this was his last chance to make good, Frank persuades Ian to help him fake a series of reports from war-torn South America. They are actually holed up in a restaurant across the road with a couple of friends, the almost terminally thick Brigida (America Ferrara) and her husband Domingo (Raul Castillo).

It’s a slight idea and one that is never really nailed – instead, what we get is a lazy, written-by-numbers story featuring embarrassing racial stereotyping, and a series of plot twists you can see coming from several blocks away. More damningly, there’s hardly anyone here you can root for, as McDonald’s character aside, they all appear to be venal, self-interested scumbags with an eye on advancing their own careers. Furthermore, a scene that emulates a faked hostage video is uncomfortably close to images we’ve seen in real life that are a million miles away from anything humorous. I can’t help but wonder if, in the past,  the sadly absent Stephen Merchant acted as some kind of quality control for Gervais. Left to his own devices, he seems incapable of creating anything with any depth.

With a new David Brent movie looming on the horizon, the only hope is that he’s put a bit more effort into that script, because this one is frankly dead in the water.

1 star

Philip Caveney

Muppets Most Wanted

MV5BMTA2OTc0MzAxMDVeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDUyOTgxNDIx._V1_SY317_CR14,0,214,317_AL_

10/10/14

The 2011 reboot of The Muppets was an unqualified success. Those adorable, fun felt creations had simply been too long out of the public gaze and were welcomed back with unabashed joy. A good three years later, here’s the sequel and it already feels like a case of  ‘too soon.’ Which is not to say that there isn’t plenty to enjoy here.

The story picks up, quite literally, where the last film left off. Having just finished the climactic song and dance set piece, Kermit and Co wonder what they should do next and barely pausing for breath, launch straight into a song called ‘We’re doing a sequel!’ Tellingly, this features a lyric that claims that sequels are ‘never quite as good as the original,’ which sadly becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Muppets acquire a new manager, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) who despite Kermit’s misgivings books them on a World tour. But given his name, it’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that Dominic is actually an international thief with his eyes fixed on the Crown Jewels. (Final gig?The Tower of London!) To achieve his nefarious ends, he has Kermit substituted with a lookalike, Constantine, ‘the world’s most dangerous frog,’ while the real Kermit is shunted off to a Russian Gulag where he is taken under the wind of camp commandant, Nadya (Tina Fey.)

Everything is in place. A sprightly script, some laugh-out-loud moments and brief guest appearances by a host of big names; yet something here doesn’t quite gel and it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what the problem is. At the end of the day, you have to hand it to the Henson crew, who manage to do the seemingly impossible by making you actually care about a bunch of glove puppets. This wasn’t a ‘rush to the cinema’ kind of film (unlike its predecessor) but nonetheless, for an undemanding evening of family entertainment, it’s well worth seeking out on DVD.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney