Surely no actor quite inhabits his creation with the same disconcerting ease as Ricky Gervais occupies David Brent. Even Steve Coogan seemed to be underpinned by a team of canny gag writers when he became Alan Partridge.

Not so writer-director Ricky Gervais . When he appears at the receptionist desk at his new place of work (Lavichem) ready to spin his verbal agonies it is the return of a colleague to our midst, not the reprise of a performance.

In fact, it feels as though Gervais is liberated as his alter-ego, a butterfly unfurling his wings, all those unpalatable sentiments swashing around his brain he can unleash without recourse to Twitter explanations, mitigations and backlashes.

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That is the joy of his film David Brent: Life On The Road – when Brent is given the space to talk himself into an un-PC corner, his horrified audience unwilling or unable to intervene because they, like us, just want to see what excruciating knot the Brentmeister will tie for himself.

“I like making people laugh. Sue me.”

The film travels only a little further than the mockumentary, all those years ago, and acts like superfluous fan fiction. Wernham-Hogg is a memory but now he’s a rep for a cleaning company, heading up and down the country in his Insignia and occasionally docking in his office where relentless drones pick on him. The Finchy 2.0s.

He has a pal Nigel Martin (Phoneshop’s Tom Bennett) who adores the man (“They call us Bantz and Dec”) and an adoring Pauline (Jo Hartley) who he routinely ignores because he has bigger dreams to dream.

So, when the documentary team come calling for a catch-up, Brent cashes in his private pension and makes a wholly inadvised stab at rock ‘n’ roll fame, consisting of a tour with his backing band, Foregone Conclusion, and rapping pal Dom (Doc Brown).

That the tour doesn’t venture too far from Slough and the backing band are wholly embarrassed session musicians exploiting a middle-aged man’s last chance does not register at Brent makes the best of a bad lot.

Ricky Gervais as David Brent

Inevitably, he plays to empty halls, his cash runs out, he realises the mercenary nature of the crew and, as with the series, David Brent the clown gives way to David Brent the pitiable loser.

Gervais has a familiar smile for Brent. That fixed cheesy grin, putting a gloss on subterranean agonies – and that is the audience’s expression for much of this outing. Brent is pitiable and tragic and no opportunities to humiliate the leather-jacketed failure are unexplored.

It is painful, as well as painfully funny. But mostly painful.

And when he wins the respect of his former foes and finds a lady, we’re so relieved that something has gone right that we forget the sheer improbability of the transformation.

And when he states, rightly, that he might be a rep but once he was a rock and roll star we don’t begrudge him the memory. We applaud the man who tries, however trying he may be.

Movie Name David Brent: Life on the Road
Year 2016
Directed by Ricky Gervais
Running time 96 mins
Starring

Ricky Gervais

Jo Hartley

Doc Brown

Tom Bennett