Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tribeca ’16: Special Correspondents

Radio reporter Frank Bonneville and his engineer Ian Finch could be called the Jayson Blairs of radio, except they really intended to cover the uprising in Ecuador. Unfortunately, a funny thing happened on the way to the airport. It was all Finch’s fault, as it often is. In accordance with their journalistic ethics, they will just fake it as best they can in Ricky Gervais’s Netflix original Special Correspondents (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

After sleeping with the oblivious Bonneville, Finch’s preening wife Eleanor decides to give him the heave-ho. Frankly, it is probably the best thing that could happen to him, especially considering Claire Maddox the kind-hearted segment producer seems to be carrying a torch for him. The Ecuador assignment should be a convenient cooling-off period for Finch, but he rather inconveniently trashes their tickets and passports instead of his wildly ill-conceived letter to Eleanor.

With the borders closing imminently, Bonneville ensconce themselves in the spare room above their favorite coffee house and proceed to fake it so real, just like Edward R. Murrow would have done. When their “scoops” threaten to escalate the international incident, Bonneville and Finch are summoned to the embassy for their own protection. Of course, that is not going to happen, so they fake their abduction to cover for their absence. Then the stakes really start to rise when Eleanor Finch exploits the [fake] crisis as a means of establishing herself as a media celebrity.

Somehow Gervais (directing himself) maintains a level of mild amusement—light chuckles—consistently throughout Correspondents. There is funny stuff in there, but it is nothing like seeing the rat episode of Fawlty Towers for the first time.

As screenwriter, Gervais hits a nice tone, but he is not so well-informed when it comes to Latin America. Frankly, it is highly unlikely leftist guerrillas would revolt against the Correa regime. If a revolution broke out in the Cuban-Venezuelan-aligned nation (where the independence of the press and judiciary are routinely violated and thuggery is used to intimidate political rivals), it would be in the best interests of both the American people and the Ecuadorans to support the uprising, but our current administration would probably prefer to continue currying favor with the Castro regime.

Regardless, Gervais works overtime milking his likable sad sack shtick. However, it is Eric Bana who really gives the film some bite as Bonneville, the cocky prima donna. Vera Farmiga is ridiculously over-the-top as Eleanor Finch, but that is the whole point. Kevin Pollak also gets in a handful of sly line-deliveries as Bonnevilla’s less-than-impressed station manager.

Arguably, Correspondents is the perfect film to lead an almost entirely streaming life. It is diverting in the moment, but leaves nothing behind in the subconscious. More watchable than memorable, Special Correspondents launches on Netflix this Friday (4/29), following its world premiere at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.