What we’ve got here is a strong premise – a hotshot local radio news reporter (is there such a thing?) and his wally of a sound engineer miss their flight to war-torn Ecuador and instead decide to “report” on the coup d’etat from a Spanish restaurant over the road from their radio station. Throw in an assured Eric Bana as the reporter – actually seeming invested in the film – and comedy notables Kevin Pollak and America Ferrara, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that it should be a can’t-miss film. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Admittedly, the film has a few moments where its comedy potential shines through, but alas, they are lost in the muddled structure and obvious half-hearted approach to the creation of the film on Gervais’ part. Having had a few swings and misses since Extras ended, by way of Ghost Town (2008) and The Invention of Lying (2009), Gervais has perhaps proved once and for all that he is better suited to more British stylings of comedy. There’s no doubt that his upcoming David Brent road movie will be a palate-cleanser for this misguided attempt by a British comedian to adapt a French comedy and set it in the U.S.
The missteps are glaringly obvious, from Gervais’ sad-sack character who undeservedly wins his third act triumph, two horrendously racist caricatures of Spaniards in the form of America Ferrara and Raul Castillo (as the kindly yet idiotic couple who house Gervais and Bana whilst they pretend to be in Ecuador), and a supremely wasted Kelly Macdonald who is seemingly only in the film to appear worried and give a kiss to Gervais at the end. If any of this seems spoiler-ish to you, you’ve presumably never seen a film, ever.
It’s paint-by-numbers storytelling from Gervais that has spread outside the lines, as his act structure is all over the show. The set-up for the story where the intrepid news team find themselves having to lie about being in Ecuador takes a good forty-five minutes, and the final third act where they actually smuggle themselves into Ecuador feels like an after-thought – taking up twenty minutes but feeling like fifteen.
Although it’s unclear what exactly went wrong with Gervais’ penmanship in the overall creation of the script, there are saving graces. Vera Farmiga, who plays Gervais’ wife, is a complete scene-stealer. Her character is the most cynical of the bunch, and actually bears Gervais’ mark. You’d think there’d be more of that in a film made by the man, but apparently not. Her arc as a woman who thought she’d be mingling with the glitterati when she married a radio tech at the beginning of his career – only to find the reality much less sparkling than what she had in mind – is a treat.
As the two bumbling reporters are “kidnapped”, she launches an on-air appeal to raise money to pay their ransom, unknowing that it’s all a lie but not really caring about her husband’s health anyway. For her, it’s a shot at the big time, and the audience sees through her veneer as soon as she launches into an exploitative song designed to pull heart strings on a late-night chat show. Her character is the most fun, and says a lot about celebrity victims and how much fame and money it would take to forget about loss.
Sadly, Gervais doesn’t invest the same amount of bite into the rest of his satire, resulting in an un-earned shootout where the reporters fight for their lives. The problem is, the stakes never feel that real, and in fact feel like a massive disrespect to actual journalists who put themselves in high stakes situations on a daily basis. Gervais’ view of reality is all skewiff, like he got caught up in a premise that seemed easy to him to be able to pay off. A waste of time and talent, but not one without its moments. It’s up to you whether you think the modicum of juice is worth the squeeze.
Review by Dan Woburn