Josh Brolin has been doing the interview circuit for what seems like an age since the release of Deadpool 2 earlier this year. And in pretty much every sit down with every reporter and journalist he’s taken part in, he’s been congratulated on his work on that movie and two others, Avengers: Infinity War, and Sicario 2: Soldado. And yes, that’s an impressive trio of movies to have released within a short space of time. Funny then, how no one has mentioned The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter (now showing on Netflix). Now why would that be exactly…?
In what sounds like the reaction of a spoilt child when told by its parents that it can only have one slice of birthday cake and not the whole thing, Netflix is threatening to pull five of its movies from this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Cannes has decided that only movies that receive a theatrical release in France will be eligible for entry to the prestigious Official Competition. The five movies are: Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold the Dark, Paul Greengrass’s Norway, and two Orson Welles related features, Morgan Neville’s documentary, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, and The Other Side of the Wind, Welles’s own movie that has recently been completed after being believed lost.
Cannes have apparently changed the rules in relation to the Official Competition, and it’s this that Netflix are protesting against. While many see it as a snub by the Old Guard – Cannes is seventy-one this year – against the new kids on the block, this is actually a clash of “business models”. Cannes believes it’s important that movies be seen on a big screen, in cinemas, as part of a shared cultural experience. The festival also highlights the range and diversity of cinema from around the world, and despite its elitist standing, always seeks to present what would be regarded as more mainstream movies throughout its yearly run. Already confirmed this year is the latest Star Wars offshoot, Solo, and when the full line up is revealed on 12 April, there’s little doubt that other more mainstream movies will be present.
Netflix, however, have no interest in releasing its movies in cinemas. It’s not their distribution model, and they’re just as inflexible in their approach as Cannes is. Some people are saying that Netflix and their streaming services are the future of movies, that home viewing, whether on sixty-inch plus TV screens, or computer monitors, or tablets, will see an end to theatrical distribution. Perhaps. But if television, once heralded as the inevitable cause of the demise of movie-going, hasn’t done the job after all this time, then Netflix isn’t going to make a difference either. And while it’s true that people want a wider choice of access based on their own terms and needs, the shared experience of a visit to the cinema is still the way to see a movie. As the makers of Godzilla (1998) put it, Size Does Matter.
But should this divide between Cannes and Netflix be considered as anything more than a falling out amongst uneasy friends? Possibly, but in the end it’s unlikely to affect the potential success or failure of any of the movies being withheld, and Cannes and Netflix will continue to prosper in their own unique ways. And as long as that continues, then we, the audience, will continue to be well served by both organisations.
D: Noah Baumbach / 112m
Cast: Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Elizabeth Marvel, Grace Van Patten, Judd Hirsch, Rebecca Miller, Candice Bergen, Adam Driver, Matthew Shear, Sakina Jaffrey, Gayle Rankin, Michael Chernus
Harold Meyerowitz (Hoffman) is a semi-famous sculptor who hasn’t had a show in years, and who has become somewhat marginalised within the New York art world. His work is admired by those that know of it, but his contemporaries, such as L.J. Shapiro (Hirsch), are still exhibiting and still getting the recognition that Harold thinks they don’t deserve. Harold is on his fourth marriage – to Maureen (Thompson) – and has two children from his first, Danny (Sandler) and Jean (Marvel). Danny is in the midst of separating from his wife, and has a precocious teenage daughter, Eliza (Van Patten), who is about to leave for college. Jean is a spinster but leads an otherwise happy life. Harold has another child from his third marriage, Matthew (Stiller), but he lives in LA, and works as a financial consultant. He’s successful, and has a young son he would like to spend more time with. This is the family Meyerowitz, and despite outward appearances, many of which they foster themselves, they all need help (oh boy, do they need help).
What’s impressive about Noah Baumbach’s latest feature is that he takes a stereotypical dysfunctional family, and spins that stereotype ever so slightly off its axis, so that each nugget of information about any of the characters seems fresh and unexpected, even though a closer inspection reveals tropes and metaphors that we’ve seen countless times before. This is due to Baumbach’s very eloquent and very astute screenplay, a piece of writing that manages to include a number of complex and yet succinct observations on the nature of father-son relationships and the effect that an inwardly scared parent can have on their children. It’s no surprise that Baumbach has chosen to examine the issue of what children need from their parents as this has formed the basis of much of his work in the past, from The Squid and the Whale (2005) to While We’re Young (2014). But this is easily his most impressive and most fully realised project, and it has a smoothness and an ease about it that makes it all the more enjoyable to watch.
The main focus is, at first, on Danny. With his marriage coming to an end and Eliza going off to college, Danny has to reassess what he’s going to do with his life (he’s been a house husband up until now, having chosen that as his “career” instead of being a musician). He and Jean get involved in arranging a retrospective of Harold’s career, but Baumbach is quick to make the viewer realise that this isn’t being done out of love or affection, and not even necessarily out of respect for their father’s work. Like so many other things connected to Harold that they do, it’s done because they view it as the right thing to do; it’s a familial obligation. But Harold is obsessed with how his work is perceived, because his work is the only thing that, to him, makes him stand out from the crowd. He’s constantly seeking approbation from everyone around him, and insists he receives it from his kids. But if they don’t, then he’s oblivious to both them and their needs. Such is their lives as adults, such was their lives as children.
Harold’s narcissistic expressions about himself, and his short-fuse dismissal of anyone he deems unimportant, has had an unpleasant effect on all three of his children. Danny has spent an enormous amount of time and energy in raising Eliza so that they’re more like friends instead of father and daughter. As a result he’s a better father than Harold was to him, but the irony is that in its own way, it’s as unhealthy as the relationship Danny had with him as a child. Baumbach makes the point well: too little attention or love can be just as bad as too much. But while that may seem obvious (and it is), it’s the way in which Danny tries to strike a balance between the two, and without necessarily being aware that he’s doing it, that makes all the difference. Jean has her own reasons for keeping her life separate, and though it seems that she’s perhaps the most “adjusted” of the three, this later proves to be incorrect. And then there’s Matthew, who professes to be “over” his father’s ability to make him angry for having a successful life (Harold is almost as obsessed by money as he is by maintaining his reputation). Matthew, like Danny, is trying to be a better father than Harold was, but he can’t seem to connect with his son, despite his best efforts.
Watching these four people struggle to communicate with each other, and struggle to find the answers that are often in front of them, should be frustrating for the viewer, but Baumbach, and the sharpness of his script, helps avoid all that. The family dynamic is entirely credible and perfectly judged, with superb performances from all concerned. Sandler has only been better once before, in Punch-Drunk Love (2002), and here he proves that he can be a fine dramatic actor when he wants to be (which isn’t often enough). Sandler displays a warmth and a heartfelt sincerity as Danny that allows the viewer a way in to the Meyerowitz family and its myriad issues. He’s a sweet, caring guy trying to do his best, and he has enough self-awareness to know that he doesn’t always get it right. Stiller is equally as good, channelling Matthew’s anger at being unfairly singled out for Harold’s praise as a child when the praise, and what it related to, wasn’t important to Matthew at all. In support, Marvel, Thompson and Van Patten offer touching performances, while there are a clutch of more minor roles that allow for a few scene-stealing moments (Chernus as a snippy nurse is a treat). But this, perhaps expectedly, is Hoffman’s movie, his portrayal of Harold as a manipulative, emotionally remote artist one of the best things he’s done in years.
Baumbach approaches the material and the characters with a great deal of care and attention, and it’s this that makes the movie so effortlessly dramatic, and so effortlessly funny. Nobody behaves in a manner that might seem odd or inappropriate because that’s how they’ve always behaved. With some questions there’s an answer provided, but many’s the time when Baumbach keeps the viewer in the dark, as if to say, “these characters still need time to figure things out, and it’s not going to happen before the movie’s over”. It all adds up to a remarkably humane and sympathetic look at expectations between the generations, and how personal legacies can hamper the growth of those who are raised in the shadow of them. Thoughtful and considerate of its characters’ foibles and muted aspirations, Baumbach’s latest is a sprightly mix of drama and comedy that succeeds on both fronts, and is his best work yet.
Rating: 9/10 – that rarity: a comedy-drama with heart as well as intelligence, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is a cautionary tale that never once feels forced or that it’s struggling to find its own voice; the characters linger in the memory, along with Baumbach’s clever script and fluid direction, and a number of quality performances, making this a movie that everyone should try and see, and especially as an alternative to more mainstream, big-budget moviemaking.
D: Eli Craig / 95m
Cast: Adam Scott, Evangeline Lilly, Bridget Everett, Clancy Brown, Owen Atlas, Kyle Bornheimer, Chris D’Elia, Donald Faison, Tyler Labine, Sally Field, Brad Williams
Depending on the circumstances, the three scariest words in the world are either, “I love you”, or “starring Liam Hemsworth”. But now, there’s another contender, one that can also strike fear and panic into even the sturdiest of hearts, and that is: “a Netflix film”. They’re coming along thick and fast these days, but for every well received movie, there are three or four others that are cinematically dead in the water, snoozefests that should have been cancelled at the first idea stage. In this fashion, Netflix, by taking a scattershot, let’s-make-it-anyway approach, have foisted a number of dire movies on its members over the last few years, and they show absolutely no sign of stopping. Let’s face it: for every Okja (2017), there’s a Special Correspondents (2016) or a Sandy Wexler (2017).
And now there’s Little Evil, a comedy horror where the two are indistinguishable from each other, and its spoof elements land with huge resounding thuds. It’s a movie that strives to be a comedic spin on The Omen (1976) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968), but which succeeds only in reminding the viewer of just how iconic and original those movies truly are. You have to ask yourself, why did anybody – least of all writer-director Eli Craig – think this was a good idea? A spoof of two movies that between them are forty-one and forty-nine years old respectively, and have stood the test of time as classics of the horror genre? Who needs that now? And who in their right mind allowed this movie to go ahead? This isn’t a movie that’s going to be regarded with anything like the fondness or respect that The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby have accrued over the years; chances are it won’t be remembered at all a year from now – and that’s just by its stars.
The plot is straightforward: realtor Gary (Scott) has recently married single mom Samantha (Lilly). She has a son, Lucas (Atlas), who will soon be six, but he’s a little withdrawn, doesn’t speak much, and likes wearing clothes similar to those worn by Harvey Stephens in the 1976 classic. Strange events happen around Lucas quite often, but Samantha always brushes these things aside, while Gary starts to notice that maybe, just maybe what’s weird is Lucas himself. Footage from his and Samantha’s wedding shows the priest speaking backwards and charging Gary with protecting Lucas from hellfire and brimstone, while a subsequent outbreak of freak weather sees the child unaffected in the midst of it all. There are further clues: Samantha revealing that Lucas was conceived during a ceremony that took place at the cult she was a member of, and the coincidental arrival in town of biblical end of days preacher Reverend Gospel (Brown).
Gary gains help through some of the members of a stepfather support group he finds himself joining (don’t ask). But while he begins to get them to accept the idea that little Lucas is the Antichrist, Lucas takes the issue by his father’s horns and buries Gary in the backyard. Rescued by Samantha (who takes Lucas’s side and doesn’t believe her son has any issues at all; it’s Gary’s fault for not bonding with him!), Gary, who has done his research, tries one last time to connect with Lucas, and finds himself succeeding. But just as Gary is making headway in getting Lucas to believe he can be “anyone he wants to be”, the boy is kidnapped by Gospel’s followers, and so is Samantha. Cue a race against time to stop Lucas being sacrificed and Lucifer allowed to use his body to come into the world. Will Gary and his friends from the stepfather support group (Everett, D’Elia, Faison, Bornheimer) be in time to save the world from Satan? Will Gary get his new family back (minus the Satanic influences)? And will anyone really care if he doesn’t?
The answers to all those questions are as obvious as the cracks in Craig’s screenplay. But this isn’t a movie that’s interested in creating a believable milieu for its story to play out against, and nor is it a movie that’s been carefully thought through from beginning to end. Like many spoofs, it operates in a world that’s so far removed from the real one that any attempt at trying to get it to fit in is redundant – and so it proves. Samantha shows the kind of denial over Lucas’s actions that make no sense and can’t be rationalised, no matter how hard Craig or Lilly try, while Gary shrugs off being buried alive with all the resilience of a man who has to because the script says he does. But even with all this – and there’s much, much more – there’s no reason for things to be so disjointed and credibility-free. Craig cleverly created a world that operated within its own skewed logic when he made the wonderfully irreverent Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010), but the knack has deserted him here, and the silly tone and generic narrative seriously undermine his efforts in telling an enjoyable story (though there is one great joke involving cornfields; inevitably, it’s in the trailer).
With so much of the movie playing out without any kind of regard for dramatic structure or comedic flow – this has all the hallmarks of a movie where the director was the last person to be consulted over any decisions that needed to be made – it’s left to Scott to keep us interested, and good though he is, the material defeats him time and again. Spare a thought for the likes of Brown and Field as well, used to little effect in a movie that’s going through the motions and which sometimes feels like it’s been designed that way. The humour wears thin pretty quickly, and the real horror is that there’s no horror to speak of (unless you count Atlas’ performance). In the end it all feels like a movie made by committee rather than a writer-director who should be able to make more of an impression than he does here, but maybe that’s what “a Netflix film” is: a movie made by Netflix and not by real movie makers.
Rating: 3/10 – a barebones parody of two of the finest horror movies ever made shows the paucity of the ideas involved within the first fifteen minutes, and then slides inexorably downhill from there, making Little Evil a fruitless experience that just keeps on disappointing its audience; when a movie’s idea of humour is to repeat a joke about a step-parent defecating into their son’s school bag then you know it’s in trouble.
D: Christopher Guest / 94m
Cast: Carrie Aizley, Sarah Baker, Bob Balaban, Ed Begley Jr, Tom Bennett, Jennifer Coolidge, Kerry Godliman, Matt Griesser, Christopher Guest, John Michael Higgins, Michael Hitchcock, Don Lake, Jane Lynch, Christopher Moynihan, Chris O’Dowd, Jim Piddock, Parker Posey, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard, Zach Woods, Susan Yeagley
Sports mascots from around the globe gather to take part in the 8th World Mascot Association Championships, though strangely, we only get to meet competitors from the US, Canada, and the UK. There’s Mike and Mindy (Woods, Baker), teachers at Rhea Perlman Middle School; Cindi Babineaux (Posey), a former dance student; Owen Golly (pronounced “jolly”) Jr (Bennett), a third generation mascot; Tommy ‘Zook’ Zucarello (O’Dowd), a hockey mascot with a penchant for drugs and sexual misconduct; and Phil Mayhew (Moynihan), a real estate appraisor.
We meet them in the days leading up to the Championship, watch them deal with various problems related to being a mascot, and the pressures of being in such a low-profile tournament. Alongside them we get to meet the judges (Lynch, Lake, Begley Jr), the Championship organiser (Hitchcock), and a handful of interested parties, including Owen’s father (Piddock), Cindi’s sister, Laci (Yeagley), and Phil’s coach (Willard). As the big day approaches, each of the contestants faces a crisis that could mean the difference between winning and losing.
If that brief synopsis of Mascots seems a little tired, and a little uninspired, then that’s because it’s an adequate representation of the movie itself. This is the fifth movie of its type from Guest, and it has the look and feel of an idea that has been put aside in the past because it just doesn’t match up to the quality of its predecessors. There’s the same set up as before, with brief character introductions giving way to even briefer journeys to the main venue, followed by a series of obstacles that the contestants need to overcome before the big day. Along the way there are the usual monologues or discussions to camera that reveal character flaws or embarrassing histories, wedded to documentary style footage that shows the same characters behaving badly or with few social skills.
As a result, the situations and the jokes feel forced and the humour dries up very quickly in any given scene. And many of those same scenes are superfluous and dull, failing to advance the basic storyline, and feeling more extraneous than relevant. That said, the cast do the best they can, but some are more fortunate than others, with Bennett and Moynihan coming off best, while the likes of Willard, Lynch and Hitchcock play the same old characters they always play. Guest, though, actually does play a character he’s played before: Corky St Clair from Waiting for Guffman (1996). It all adds up to a fitfully amusing movie that never manages to gather any momentum, and remains unrewarding except for a couple of the mascot performances.
Rating: 5/10 – a bit of a struggle to get through, Mascots is another Netflix movie that promises more than it can deliver; time for Guest et al to hang up the mockumentary approach and find a new way to lampoon the people whose niche pursuits have provided us with so much hilarity in the past.
D: Steven Brill / 108m
Cast: Adam Sandler, David Spade, Paula Patton, Kathryn Hahn, Nick Swardson, Matt Walsh, Renée Taylor, Sean Astin, Natasha Leggero, Luis Guzmán, Catherine Bell, Jackie Sandler, Michael Chiklis, Torsten Voges, Stan Ellsworth
The second movie in Adam Sandler’s six picture deal with Netflix, The Do-Over arrives with probably very little anticipation on anyone’s part except for those die-hard Sandler fans who’ve been helping keep him one of the most well-paid stars in Hollywood (still). But in a strange twist of fate, The Do-Over isn’t as bad as it looks. It’s bad, but considering some of Sandler’s other, more recent movies, it isn’t that bad. (There are all different levels of bad, and Sandler’s probably made at least one movie for each level, but this isn’t quite as low down as some of the others.)
The movie introduces us first of all to Charlie (Spade). He’s dressed conservatively, looks like the kind of guy who’d struggle to be recognised in a selfie, and he’s at a high school reunion watching his wife (Leggero) getting pawed by another man (Astin) on the dancefloor. He might as well have ‘Loser’ tattooed on his forehead. Enter Max (Sandler), perhaps Charlie’s only real friend from their high school days. As they swap stories about their lives since then, it seems Max has exceeded expectations and joined the FBI, while Charlie manages a bank inside a Save & Pay. It isn’t long before Max is encouraging Charlie to change his life and do what he really wants to do, but Charlie lacks the guts to do so. But a trip out to sea on Max’s boat sees Charlie forced to do exactly that, as Max has faked their deaths and they both have new identities: Charlie is Dr Ronald Fischman, and Max is Butch Rider.
The chance discovery of the key to a safety deposit box leads them to Puerto Rico and a luxury villa that the real Fischman and Rider own. But their new, idyllic existence is brought to an end by the appearance of a hired assassin, the Gymnast (Voges), who tries to kill them. Max gets them both away and in the process reveals that he’s not an FBI agent but exactly what their high school guidance counsellor always said he’d be: a morgue attendant. He wanted to change his life as well, and when the two men arrived at the morgue he took the opportunity to switch their identities. But now it’s clear that Fischman and Rider were involved in something dangerous, and using Fischman’s widow, Heather (Patton), as a source of information, they start to delve into the pair’s recent past, but in doing so, Charlie learns that even now, Max is hiding things from him.
If you’ve read the above synopsis and thought, ‘Okay, that doesn’t sound so bad’, then that’s because it isn’t. There’s more – obviously – and a lot of it is on the same dramatic level. Naturally, this being an Adam Sandler/David Spade buddy movie, there’s a fair bit of humour thrown into the mix, as well as brief moments of romance, and even some neat, uncontrived action beats. But all these elements, well intentioned as they are, remain flat and uninvolving, and despite several attempts at the kind of wacky, minor league offensive material Sandler is known for, The Do-Over consists of one largely unmemorable scene after another, and features Sandler doing what he does best: playing the same character he’s played for over thirty years now.
If anyone has to ask, after all this time, why is Adam Sandler still so popular, and why has Netflix decided to enter into a six-picture deal with him, then this movie contains the answer. It’s a quintessential Sandler movie: defiantly silly, with a series of unrelated scenes given a sprinkling of narrative cohesion to help them through; laughs based on personal abuse; visual gags at the expense of one or more of the characters; glamorous location work; and the same just-making-the-required-effort performance from Sandler that he gives in pretty much all his movies. Some may decry these aspects of his work, but Sandler knows exactly what he’s doing: he’s giving his fans what they want, and what they’ve come to expect. And it’s why his movies always make a profit, even the likes of Jack and Jill (2011) and That’s My Boy (2012).
So all that remains is to ask the question, where does The Do-Over fit in with the rest of Sandler’s movies? Well, it’s certainly not as bad as the ones mentioned in the previous paragraph, but it’s also nowhere near as good as, say, The Wedding Planner (1998 – so long ago now), or 50 First Dates (2004). It’s averagely entertaining, largely forgettable, and the script by Kevin Barnett and Chris Pappas doesn’t strive too hard in terms of the basic plot, but it does have moments where the ennui lifts and the shade of a better movie can be glimpsed. Most of these moments involve Spade, who makes Charlie quite endearing at times, and there’s a surprisingly well choreographed fight sequence between Patton and Hahn that’s funny and bruising. As mentioned before, Sandler coasts along but often looks disinterested. Unless he manages to fit in another movie for Netflix, Sandler isn’t due back on our screens until next year in Noah Baumbach’s Yeh Din Ka Kissa, a movie that also features Emma Thompson, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, and Candice Bergen. Just how he fares in such company will be interesting to see.
Frequent collaborator Brill keeps things moving at a decent pace, and the Puerto Rican locations are exploited to the full by DoP Dean Semler, yet the movie still manages to shift awkwardly between the tonal demands of the narrative, mixing comedy, drama and thriller elements to muddled effect often in the same scene (Max’s “torture” by the Gymnast is a perfect example). And for once, there aren’t the usual round of cameos from the likes of Rob Schneider et al, a minor blessing in a movie that at least doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Rating: 5/10 – amiable enough while it’s playing, The Do-Over is the kind of comedy that fades from the memory soon after it’s seen; if you don’t expect too much going in then you might be pleasantly surprised, otherwise it’s yet another Adam Sandler movie that it’s hard to get too excited about.
D: Ricky Gervais / 100m
Cast: Eric Bana, Ricky Gervais, Vera Farmiga, Kelly Macdonald, Kevin Pollak, Raúl Castillo, America Ferrara, Benjamin Bratt, Mimi Kuzyk
Comedians and Netflix – a good combination? After Adam Sandler’s The Ridiculous 6 (2015), we now have Ricky Gervais’ Special Correspondents, a movie so leaden and uninspired it makes Sandler’s movie look like a masterpiece (okay, that may be taking it a bit too far). A remake of the French movie Envoyés très spéciaux (2009), this transplants the original’s Paris-Iraq locations for New York-Ecuador, and in the process leaves out the humour that would have made it halfway watchable.
Gervais’ decision to make this movie serves only to highlight his inability to write, act and direct a full-length movie and show consistency in any one department. As the meek, self-negating Ian Finch, a sound engineer for a New York-based radio station, Gervais plays yet another sad-sack loser with zero confidence and a view of himself as a complete nobody. Gervais has played this character, and variations of it, several times now, and it’s as tired as the script he’s put together and somehow managed to get financing for. (If you really want to see just how bad an actor Gervais can be, check out the party scene early on, where it’s just him and Vera Farmiga; see how many grimaces and facial expressions you can spot that are exact replicas of the ones he uses when hosting the Golden Globe Awards… or playing David Brent in The Office.)
Gervais’ painful attempts at acting aside, it’s his script that deserves the most criticism, ranging as it does from occasionally interesting to crudely simplistic. The basic story – radio journalist and his sound man fake reports from war-torn Ecuador – is lifted wholesale from the French original, and even though that movie wasn’t the most well received movie ever, it’s still better than the ponderous, laugh-free adaptation that Gervais gives us here. Yes, it has a predictable plot; yes, it has characters who are two-dimensional at best; and yes, you couldn’t care about any of them even if your life depended on it, but if after all that it was funny, really laugh-out-loud funny, then it could have been forgiven for all those things. But although Gervais has made room for moments that are clearly meant to be funny, in reality they aren’t, and the movie lurches from one almost-humorous scene to another with all the grace of a punch-drunk boxer fighting his reflection.
It doesn’t help that, Kelly Macdonald’s sweet-on-Ian character, Claire Maddox aside, the other characters are mostly unlikeable, from radio journalist Frank Bonneville (Bana) whose grandstanding and willingness to get the story no matter what makes him look and sound arrogant and unfeeling, to Ian’s wife, Eleanor (Farmiga), a listless shrew who only comes to self-aggrandising life when her husband appears to have been kidnapped by rebel forces. Farmiga, who has the misfortune of wearing one of recent cinema’s most unflattering wigs, does what she can with the role but there’s no subtlety in a part that calls for simpering insincerity at every other turn, and bald-faced self-promotion in between. The same goes for Bana, a more than capable actor here reduced to the role of awkward straight man to Gervais, and who has to spend a lot of screen time waiting for Gervais to deliver the comedic goods (so he gets to wait around a lot).
In support, Pollak is the radio boss who cares about the legality of a story’s procurement one minute, but is willing to capitalise on the possibility of Frank and Ian being killed the next, while Castillo and Ferrara are the Latin couple, Domingo and Brigida, who help Frank and Ian fabricate their reports. What few laughs there are in the movie are delivered by the couple, playing a couple of innocents who haven’t quite grasped their roles in Frank and Ian’s deception. And in what must have taken him a whole morning to film, Bratt turns up as Frank’s arch-nemesis, TV journalist John Baker, who co-opts one of Frank’s broadcasts as if he knew all about the content all along (Baker is probably meant to provide an element of satire, but instead he comes across as an easy target for Gervais’ mistrust of the Press).
Of course, events dictate that Frank and Ian have to go to Ecuador so that they can “return” to New York and avoid losing their jobs and ending up in jail. It’s during this period in the movie that Gervais’ deficiencies as a director show themselves more clearly than elsewhere. Even with the aid of experienced DoP Terry Stacey, Gervais still manages to present the viewer with shots and scenes that are poorly framed, and there’s a scene with Gervais and Bana where Frank reveals a secret that is so badly assembled it feels like rehearsal footage has somehow made its way permanently into the final movie.
As mentioned when discussing the trailer, Gervais track record on the big screen has not exactly been luminous, but here he’s come up with a project that will likely mean it will be a long time before he’s asked to write, direct and star in a movie of his own choosing once again. If Gervais has an aptitude for anything it’s for observational comedy, and Special Correspondents doesn’t fit that mold, which makes it even harder to understand why he chose to take it on in the first place.
Rating: 3/10 – dire and acutely unfunny, Special Correspondents is yet another English-language remake that shouldn’t have happened (and how many more of those will we see this year?), and shouldn’t have to be watched; Gervais never gets to grips with what his movie is about, or where the laughs should go, leaving the viewer resigned to the idea (from very early on) that this is a movie that has stalled before it’s even started.