Ricky Gervais revives 'The Office' role in Netflix movie

Ricky Gervais in the Netflix movie 'David Brent: Life on the Road'

(CNN)"The Office" remains Ricky Gervais' signature creation, which explains the temptation to return to it -- in this case, via a stand-alone Netflix movie -- even without the rest of the gang. Enter "David Brent: Life on the Road," a slight but ultimately satisfying exercise in nostalgia, awkwardness and the protagonist's desperate desire to be liked.

Picking up 12 years after the original British "The Office" ended, the movie again employs a mockumentary format by revisiting Gervais' Brent in another business setting. He's now employed as a traveling salesman -- irritating most of those around him, and endearing a few.
Still, he hasn't given up on his dreams of a higher-profile life, cashing in his pension and unpaid leave to tour with a band he's named Foregone Conclusion -- braving, as he says, "one last push to see if I can make it in the music business."
Granted, his rented studio-musician mates consider Brent a "complete joke" -- and say so, a little too bluntly, in the direct-to-camera interviews -- as he endures one indignity after another. During a radio station interview, he's dismissed as "one of the original docu-soap stars," with his furtive glances toward the camera betraying his discomfort.
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Much of the humor stems from the character's chronic tone-deafness, from his meeting with a human-resources rep to the way he introduces the young black rapper (Ben Bailey Smith) to writing a song with the lyric, "Please don't make fun of the disabled," which only gets worse from there.
Gervais (who wrote and directed the movie, along with many of the songs) tackled many of the same themes in "Extras," which also dealt with the yearning to be famous. In that respect, "Life on the Road" almost feels like a hybrid of the two.
Like his earlier efforts, Gervais puts Brent through a series of ordeals but before its over also finds an element of compassion and humanity, with the character discovering -- sort of like a grown-up Charlie Brown -- that a few people actually do care about him. Of course, that requires getting past his trademark obliviousness about someone like Pauline (Jo Hartley), a fellow office worker who clearly has feelings for him.
Netflix has been especially shrewd about capitalizing on the built-in equity in familiar projects, and this belated follow-up to "The Office" certainly falls squarely in that space.
Ultimately, the scope of this modest exercise seems about right: A nice little movie, about a small man, with big dreams.
"David Brent: Life on the Road" premieres February 10 on Netflix.