David Brent: Life on the Road should be titled, David Brent: Doesn’t Stretch to the Big Screen.
Not quite as flabby as Ricky Gervais with his top off but a bit like going out for a four course meal and then grabbing a kebab on the way home. Unnecessary. An hour special on BBC 2 would have been far better suited to the tone and comedic style than the drawn out 96 minutes found here.
We catch up with Brent, still working as a sales rep, as he’s about to embark on a self-funded ‘tour’ with his band, Foregone Conclusion Mk II, around the Slough region. Obviously his expectations are deluded, as he takes time off work as unpaid holiday and cashes in his pensions to fund the tour. The film opens well, it’s instantly funny to see Gervais’ pudgy face back in front of you as David Brent and the fact it’s that much larger seems even funnier for some reason. The reintroduction to this infamous character is done well, like meeting an old friend after several years, and the opening half hour promising.
However, sorely missed are the supporting cast of Tim, Dawn and Gareth. They helped to build something in The Office that wasn’t just Brent. It was an ensemble comedy with layers and rich characters. Here we just have Brent. And on his own it just doesn’t work as well. Doc Brown is reduced to a caricature, admittedly with one great moment where he gets to showcase his criminally underused talent. The ‘band’ are as unfunny as they are redundant. And the best offer of anything approaching decent support comes in the shape of Tom Basden and Jo Hartley, both showing a smidge of pathos and some decent comedy chops. Martin Freeman or Lucy Davis, however, they are not. Oh, and then there’s two of the guys from Phoneshop, well, being two of the guys from Phoneshop.
Aside from all that, it’s still pretty funny. Watching Brent do what he does best, or worst, is still so awkwardly brilliant that you’ll either groan or laugh. There is just too much time and space for those jokes or funny moments to dilute into. A neater measure is best for Brent.
At times it feels truly indulgent, as if Gervais is abusing his Hollywood position just to fulfill some childhood dream of being a rock star, such are the frequency and duration of his singing performances. The songs are funny, the dynamic with, and in fact the band themselves, are not. The minute or two with Brent on his guitar at a team building exercise from The Office TV series was funnier and better timed than the half a dozen performances found here put together. Because it had contrast on its side. Contrasting your expectations of what should normally happen in that mundane, ever familiar, setting with Brent’s sheer unbelievable ridiculousness was what made The Office shine. And shine peerlessly. Just having him doing that non-stop for an hour and a bit simply doesn’t work as well. Perhaps the absence of long time collaborator, Stephen Merchant, is telling. Maybe Merchant was able to reign in Gervais’ ego and keep things more balanced…
Not as clever, not as funny and not as good, Brent: Life on the Road is a far cry from The Office. Had he taken the old gang on the road with him this might have been more watchable. As it is, it’s still funny in places but ultimately doesn’t warrant a trip to the cinema. Gervais himself said this isn’t an Office film. But maybe it should have been.