Entertainment

Sunday 19 November 2017

Film review - David Brent: Life on the Road: Brent's decline a foregone conclusion

Despite some good writing, Ricky Gervais' David Brent revival has problems, says our film critic

'I'm an entertainer third': Ricky Gervais brings David Brent back to life
'I'm an entertainer third': Ricky Gervais brings David Brent back to life

Paul Whitington

Believe it or not, it's almost 13 years since David Brent waddled off into the sunset, having offended virtually every colleague at Wernham Hogg and wormed his way into the affections of millions of avid fans.

Believe it or not, it's almost 13 years since David Brent waddled off into the sunset, having offended virtually every colleague at Wernham Hogg and wormed his way into the affections of millions of avid fans.

The original British version of 'The Office' only ran for a couple of years but had huge impact on the popular zeitgeist, and critics lavished praise on the dignity and neatness with which co-creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant ended it. And that, one thought, was that.

Not so, as it turns out. During the 2013 Red Nose TV charity special, Brent turned up in a skit that proved to be a kind of pilot for this feature film, written, produced and directed by Mr Gervais, who of necessity, also stars.

When we last met David, the Gulf War was raging, Tony Blair was in his pomp, the word Kardashian had no currency, and anyone asked about ISIS would probably have assumed they were some obscure 1970s funk band. Time marches on, however, and has not been especially kind to Brent: in the TV series he at least had the status of office manager (which was why everyone had to put up with him). Now he's working as a travelling salesman for a company that specialises in personal hygiene products - tampons, not to put too fine a point on it.

But David is nothing if not an optimist, and is also a pathological fantasist, so as far as he's concerned he's doing fine. He trades terrible puns with Nigel (the excellent but underused Tom Bennett), a fellow japester; ignores the evident contempt of his other colleagues, and is planning a new life as a rock god.

Brent has browbeaten an up-and-coming rapper called Dom Johnson (played by real rapper Doc Brown) and a group of world-weary session musicians into becoming his backing band, Foregone Conclusion, and is using his own savings to finance a tour.

He has organised gigs at a string of small venues, and though they're all within a 30-mile radius of his beloved Reading, he has booked hotel rooms for everyone as well. David wants this to be a real tour, and is pretty sure that some lucky agent is going to snap them up for a record deal along the way. Instead, the gigs are attended by two cats and a dog, all his band mates hate him, and his self-penned lyrics have a knack of offending just about everyone who hears them.

The history of British cinema is littered with the detritus of movies based on popular sitcoms: one only has to look back to last year's unspeakable 'Dad's Army' revival for evidence. But Mr Gervais is no fool: he has not made the mistake of attempting to recreate Brent's original habitat at Wernham Hogg, and none of the TV show's other characters reappear. Instead, the cheesy, well-meaning, gaffe-prone salesman is cast adrift in the angry present, where he seems a hopeless anachronism.

This approach both works, and doesn't. Some of the writing is very good, and Mr Gervais's damning observations about English middle management types retain much of their potency.

He is of course a fine comic actor, and Brent's malapropisms, awkwardness around females and disastrous attempts at political correctness still have the power to amuse. Ricky Gervais can sing, and once aspired to rock stardom himself: Brent's songs are very funny, their performance oddly compelling at times, even strangely touching.

But the film's premise wears thin after a while, none of the characters around David Brent are fleshed out sufficiently to care about, and a succession of scenes at disastrous gigs begin to feel a little samey. The original sitcom was driven by the comedy of embarrassment, and as a consequence, only tolerable in half-hour doses. Ninety-odd minutes is a long time to feel embarrassed, and it's hard not to believe that the project would have been stronger if Stephen Merchant had been involved.

There are other, perhaps braver things Ricky Gervais might have done with Brent: given him a family perhaps, made him unemployed. But the bravest thing of all might have been to leave well enough alone.

David Brent: Life on the Road

(16, 96mins)

3 Stars

Films coming soon

War Dogs (Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Bradley Cooper, Ana de Armas); The Purge: Election Year (Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell); Julieta (Emma Suarez, Adriana Ugarte, Inma Cuestal); Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Village (Aoife Kelleher).

Irish Independent

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