Two radio journalists convince the world that they are reporting from a war zone. In fact, they have lost their tickets and are stuck at home, faking the broadcasts – and when that gets too tiring, their own kidnapping.
Characters don’t have to be likeable to make great comedy. Some of the greatest comic creations are bastards, nincompoops or weirdoes. But even the worst have to have some redeeming feature, and it’s that spark of grace that’s missing from Ricky Gervais’ latest movie as writer, director and star.
A remake of 2009 French film Envoyés Très Spéciaux, Gervais plays Ian, the hapless tech responsible for their predicament. Eric Bana is Frank, the too-cool anchorman forced into a shaky alliance with him – made particularly fragile because he slept with his comrade’s wife shortly before.
It should be funnier, and more thoughtful.
But it’s hard to care. Gervais may look hangdog, but here he’s hopeless as the underdog. Instead he gives us a caricature, a mass of geeky, half-hearted tropes about videogames and comics, things that Gervais himself appears to despise. Bana’s character never seems either appalling enough to be shocking or nice enough to be worth rooting for. Worst, however, is Vera Farmiga as Ian’s faithless wife, a one-dimensional harpy without a redeeming feature.
Trying desperately to balance things out is Kelly Macdonald’s saintly Claire, who has a rather unlikely crush on Ian and no other character at all, and America Ferrera and Raúl Castillo as the impossibly nice-but-dim couple who offer the two fugitives shelter. None of them feel like human beings, which is a problem when the film strives – as it sporadically does – to make a serious point about media manipulation. But it doesn’t seem to know what point that is, and more often seems to be aiming for farce, or knockabout comedy, or some weird no man’s land inbetween.
It should be funnier, and more thoughtful – but instead it feels like Gervais phoned it in from across the road.