David Brent fails the screen test
There are some good jokes en route in Ricky Gervais’s spoof ‘road movie’, but overall it is still a vanity project, writes
DAVID BRENT: LIFE ON THE ROAD Directed by Ricky Gervais. Starring Ricky Gervais, Doc Brown, Andy Burrows, Tom Basden, Rebecca Gethings, Nona Sosanya, Andrew Brooke. Cert 16, gen release, 96mins
Who let this Xmas special into a cinema? And in the middle of blockbuster season? Ricky Gervais has been careful to let us know that this feature film following David Brent (Gervais), erstwhile mortifying boss from BBC’s The Office, is not The Office: The Movie.
That’s a pity. As any amateur tellyologist might tell you, the British sitcom requires the miserable confinements of
Steptoe and Son’s junkyard, Porridge’s cell or Basil’s Fawlty Towers in order to function.
Life on the Road hopes to trash this notion by taking David Brent . . . well, you’ve read the title, right? As the new film – written, directed and starring Gervais – opens, Brent is working as a sales rep at a firm that specialises in lavatory vending machines. Cue classic Brentism: “One size fits all!” he declares holding a tampon aloft: “No, it doesn’t.”
Our excruciating hero, we learn, has decided to cash in his pension and go on tour with a group of session musicians under the banner Foregone Conclusion. Handfuls of punters across a series of
unglamorous venues are soon ignoring his songs about the disabled (sample lyric: “Whether mental in the head/Or mental in the legs”) or the plight of the Native Americans.
His musical colleagues, including his sympathetic rapper chum (Doc Brown), plainly despise him and, in keeping with the mockumentary style of The Office, don’t mind airing their grievances to camera. And then, without warning, they decide “he’s alright really”. Huh? Superfans of Gervais may be content to hear Brent’s un-PC howlers once again, but the half-arsed structure does not a movie make. (Tellingly, the project will premiere on Netflix outside of the UK and Ireland.) As with the recent Alan Partridge transfer, Brent has been tricked with just enough to fill the big screen, and just enough to not quite convince us that he’s still Brent from The Office.
He ought to be oblivious – or at least appear oblivious. Instead he’s oblivious, then not, then oblivious again.
There are some good jokes here – even, perhaps, for non- Office lovers – but the shoddy scaffolding renders everything redundant.
A double vinyl album and The David Brent Songbook is on the way. A fictional character’s vanity project is still a vanity project.
Gervais and backing band Foregone Conclusion in David Brent: Life on the Road