How much difference is there really between Ricky Gervais and his best-known creation? They’re both loudmouths, upstagers, look-at-me-ers. They’re both convinced of their God given talent. And they do look an awful lot alike. In ‘Life on the Road’, perennial loser David Brent heads off on a big comeback tour with his band, a last-ditch attempt to salvage some kind of dignity from the wreck of his life. For Gervais, after a string ropey sitcoms like ‘Life’s Too Short’ and ‘Derek’, is this a prove-it-or-lose-it moment as well?
If yes, the gamble has mostly paid off: ‘Life on the Road’ is a consistently funny movie that if you’re a Gervais fan you’ll love. If nothing else, it’s a reminder of what a beautifully realised and horribly relatable a character David Brent is. Whether he’s storming around his new office at a sanitary supply firm, making wanking gestures to horrified co-workers, or on stage urging his audience of three to consider the plight of the Native Americans, we all know someone a bit like this man.
But this is still a Ricky Gervais joint, with all the baggage that brings. The first time Brent puts on a ropey patois accent it’s pretty funny; the second, not so much. Rapper-turned-comic Ben Bailey Smith (aka Doc Brown) is on hand to defuse some of the most aggressively crass and un-PC moments, but there’s only so much a kill-me-now eye roll can accomplish. And a few scenes are just plain nasty: one involving a woman in Brent’s hotel room is spiteful and unfunny.
So yes, being stuck in a cinema with David Brent for 96 minutes can be trying (the lazy ending doesn’t help). But when Gervais is on an improvisational roll, Brent digging himself deeper and deeper into some awful pit of social awkwardness, we can’t help but remember why we love to hate them both.