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Film Review: David Brent: Life on the Road

Resurrecting a once popular comedy character for an outing on the big screen is risky business. Just ask Steve Coogan. Suffice to say reviews for Alpha Papa – the 2015 vehicle for his celebrated Alan Partridge character – were at best ‘mixed…’

Tempting as it must be to revive a successful formula, Alpha Papa proved beyond all doubt that sometimes it really is best to quit while you’re ahead. Coogan’s flirtation with the big screen arguably did little more than taint the memory of a once glorious comic character.

It’s the same in other fields. Let’s face it how many sporting comebacks ever end in glory? Remember when Anfield legend Kenny Dalglish came back out of football management retirement to take over the reins of Liverpool FC once more? Sometimes it really is best to move on. But I digress.

In embarrassing office manager David Brent, Ricky Gervais arguably created one of sit-com’s most memorable characters, up there with Blackadder, Fawlty and Captain Mainwaring. BBC2’s The Office became the comedy hit of the naughties.

After fifteen years in mothballs Gervais has taken the very brave (or foolish) step of reviving Brent, a character who once upon time raised many a smile as the redcoat bingo caller trapped inside the body of a double glazing salesman. It worked rather well.

Asides and smirks, knowing glances to camera, the mockumentary style of The Office heralded a new, more sophisticated style of situation comedy, one whose emphasis was very much upon naturalism.

Though many years have passed since Brent performed his famous office dance, in terms of character little has changed. Apart from developing an irritating high-pitched giggle, it’s David Brent as you always knew and loved him.

The 2016 version of Brent is working in telesales, still the office joker and still dreaming of showbiz success. He’s older, but not any wiser. For the first ten minutes of the film it’s virtually déjà vu as faux pas follows faux pas. The camera-work is as shaky as Brent’s grasp of etiquette. Just like old times.

The problems with this film begin and end with the P word: Plot.

Ex-musician (writer and director) Gervais concocts a storyline which sees Brent organising and financing a three-week tour for Foregone Conclusion – a rock band the salesman also fronts. And herein lay the problems.

Of course the tour is going to go horribly wrong. And of course Brent will return to work with his tail between his legs, his dreams of rock stardom crushed.

Unfortunately the film relies entirely on Brent’s total lack of awareness for the majority of its laughs. To be honest it’s a ploy that soon starts to wear a little thin. Whether it’s performances of Brent-penned politically incorrect songs containing themes as contentious as native Indians and African American culture, Brent’s apparent insensitivity and unawareness really are strained to new levels of incredulity.

The fact that his fellow band members cannot bear to even share a drink with their lead singer-cum- manager fails to ruffle Brent’s feathers even for a moment. Could anybody really be this lacking in self-knowledge? After a while it all tends to become a little…predictable.

Whereas the original TV series was subtle, the big screen adventure is just the opposite. Frankly, the humour is always teetering on the heavy-handed.

It is worth pointing out that for all the politically incorrect content of the songs (and performances) it’s not Gervais’ comic talent that stands out – it’s his musicanship that lingers in the mind. He was, albeit briefly, a pop star once upon a time. Heck, he even appeared on Top of the Pops!

For all his limitations as a human being, David Brent can sure knock out a decent tune. Put it this way: if Foregone Conclusion ever come to a pub near me, I’d buy a ticket without hesitation.

In the final analysis Life on the Road relies too much on plot, a thin rather unsubstantial plot at the best of times. For my money the character would have thrived in less contrived waters. How about David Brent getting married or competing for salesman of the year or both? Anything but this pancake.

After watching Life on the Road one thing is abundantly clear: David ‘faux pas’ Brent, is no more, has expired, has ceased to be. RIP, David.