A camera crew catches up with David Brent, the former star of the fictional British series, "The Office" as he now fancies himself a rockstar on the road.
Ricky Gervais is, many would agree, an acquired taste. His brand of skin-crawling, cringe-inducing comedy was truly unique when it was first released in 2001. Since then, there's been the US remake and a dozen or so clones that have taken the format lain down and rolled it into something else entirely. One of the keystones of 'the UK Office's charm was David Brent, Ricky Gervais' most long-lasting and popular creation who became a byword for anyone with a narcissistic streak and didn't know how to communicate themselves in an effective way. The key to David Brent was that he was inherently unlikeable. You either hated him completely or, at the very least, deeply pitied him. With 'the UK Office', there were enough characters and subplots surrounding Brent to offset this so that it was never the sole focus. However, with 'David Brent: Life On The Road', these elements are stripped away and the audience has to look him in the eye.
The film opens with Brent explaining what happened to him in the interim between this and 'The Office' with that unique blend of jet-black humour Gervais works so well with. Brent is now working for a cleaning company as a rep and has no future prospects outside of his band, Foregone Conclusion, getting signed. He's teamed up with a rapper, played by actual rapper / comedian Doc Brown, whom he only uses for a few of the band's songs - Equality Street being the main one. The rest of the band are made up of non-descript session musicians who freely admit in the faux interviews that punctuate the film that they hate Brent, his music and are doing this solely for the money and nothing else. Brent, meanwhile, is as we remembered and there is no development to his character, as such. He is still clawingly awkward around everyone, still does that half-laugh before making a joke, still incredibly self-involved and still has no concept of the world around him. In a way, it's quite brave to centre a story around a character who has no arc of any kind. It's made clear from the get-go that David Brent hasn't changed in the slightest since his days in Wernham Hogg and he's still trapped in the same cycle of boundless optimism and crushing defeat. Yet, he's still there, still believing that he's funny, talented and appealing to women.
As mentioned, Gervais' comedy isn't for everyone. While there are some moments that will have you laughing, much of the film's comedic moments are focused on it being extremely uncomfortable or focusing on how pathetic David Brent really is. In one scene, he pays the band to have a drink with him after a gig and the band spends much of it on their phone. Another scene revolves around Brent picking up two women and bringing them back to his hotel room, only for them to eat his entire minibar and leave the next morning without a thank you. A recurring joke through the film is how Brent has hired a tour bus, but drives behind the bus in his own car to give the band creative space to work. Another is how the band are touring a relatively small area in Berkshire, not terribly far from everyone's home. This might be a sly reference to the fact that most films adapted from TV shows are set in a far-off locale ala the most recent 'Absolutely Fabulous', but it's also an allegory for the film itself.
Nothing changes in David Brent's world and there is nothing unique here. Despite Gervais' insistence that this isn't an Office film, it absolutely is in everything but word. The same lingering sense of desperation is there, the same overuse of silence as a comedic prop, even the cinematography is the same. In a way, that's not a bad thing. 'The UK Office' was an incredible success and is considered to be one of the greatest comedies of the new millennium - why change the formula when it's served Gervais so well in the past? Where the film falls down is that it's so closed off from bringing in new people that, for anyone who doesn't enjoy Gervais' comedy, there is nothing here. This is like a reunion tour for 'The UK Office' and anyone on the outside is left in the cold.
Fans of 'the UK Office' will undoubtedly enjoy this in spades, as it's essentially a feature-length episode, and award it five stars. Those, however, who weren't fans of the original and don't enjoy Gervais' comedic styling will find nothing of a value here. With that in mind, it's a three-star film.