Starring: Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby, Essie Davis
Director: Sean Foley
Running Time: 89 mins
Synopsis: Richard Thorncroft was once a renowned actor for his long running part as the TV detective Mindhorn. Alas 25 years later and he has fallen into disarray. However when a serial killer strikes the location of the old show and demands that he will only speak to Mindhorn, whom he believes to be real, Thorncroft seizes it as a chance to return to the limelight.
Mindhorn has certainly got the air of Alan Partridge about it. It has the introverted setting featuring oddball characters (Isle of Man replacing Norwich), the use of farce coupled with delightful wordplay, the egotistical blind to his surroundings central character and an air of melancholy that touches the soul in unexpected ways. All these Partridge vibes are topped off with the addition of an acerbically dickish cameo from Steve Coogan himself as a former cast-mate turned big star originally from washed up actor Richard Thorncroft’s 80s hit Mindhorn. If not quite as wickedly clever as the Norwich based DJ’s outings Mindhorn has enough gentle farce and good natured humour to entertain.
Aping the 80s TV high concept shows with a wonderfully kitsch opening montage of hammy actor Thorncroft as a bionic eye toting super cop. Able to literally see the truth in people, whilst looking immensely ‘cool’ it perfectly references the cheese and the silliness of that era of television. Riding this wave to huge success but falling into that cliched trap of booze, drugs and sex Richard then finds himself, 25 years later, alone and washed up. Julian Barrett, he of Mighty Boosh fame and joint writer here with Simon Farnaby (more on him later), is a joy as the titular character. His paunchy figure, balding head and hopelessly frustrating arrogance are a sight to behold, but Barrett gives him a sadness of a career lost and regrets that tear him up. Sure these are familiar themes, and in fact the entire film suffers from a noticeable familiarity that yields little in the way of surprises. But Barrett’s smart comedy timing and eccentric line delivery is disarmingly charming giving a bit of a boost to the confines of a flimsy story.
Surrounding Barrett is a bevy of terrific comedy performers that likewise help to negate the impact of the thin story. Fellow writer Simon Farnaby is stormingly funny as Thorncroft’s old stunt double Clive. Oddly accented and graced with some of the films best one-liners, he pretty much walks away with the whole thing. Married to Clive is former Mindhorn lead actress and his ex-lover Patricia played by a none more beautiful Essie Davis. Sexy, capable and intelligent, she has some decent chemistry with Barrett. Sadly the character work isn’t as strong for Andrea Riseborough who gets little to do as the police officer assigned to bring Thorncroft into the case, despite being a big part of the third act there is not much for an actress of her talents to work with.
It is a murder that brings the washed up Thorncroft back to the Isle of Man, despite his protestations at returning to past lives. The accused in this case is a troubled man who believes that Mindhorn is a real individual who must be the only capable force able to help him. This strange person is played by Russell Tovey who manages to make what could’ve been a caricatured slightly offensive character oddly moving. Having a dreadfully low IQ and being hopelessly lonely have left him vulnerable as well as drastically misunderstood. As the plot thickens and it becomes evident he is a little cog in a larger tale events veer into surprisingly darker territory, resulting in a unexpected turn that elicits tears predominantly through Tovey’s compassionate performance. The film undermines this moment uncomfortably in service of a joke but it is still a unique feeling to come upon tears in an inherently farcical film.
The laughs themselves very rarely rise above minor chuckling, with true belly laughs in short supply. This is not a slight on the film as it generates such an endearing joviality you cannot help but smile throughout. From a running gag concerning John Nettles (yes this film could not be any more British) to some wittily nifty word fun (‘the Benedict Cumberbatch backlash has begun’ sounds genius when spoken by Barratt) via a few lashings of broadly cartoonish touches. Witness the way Thorncroft is stitched into a makeshift Mindhorn outfit in the final act and I defy you not to at least get the giggles.
If the DIY outfit he wears in the closing moments is indicative of anything is that the budget is most definitely on the low side. Director Sean Foley should be admired for getting some nice framing shots of a rarely seen Isle of Man, but the action scenes are brief and show little of the flair from say an Edgar Wright. It all adds to the ramshackle good natured feeling the film fosters which was evidently crafted with affection and heart. It will certainly not go down as any sort of comedy masterpiece but the smile it leaves on your face cannot be denied. Farnaby and Barrett deserve the chance to put their unique stamp on something more ambitious in the future.
Verdict: Low on budget, low on plot originality and low on belly laughs, but it rewards with warmth, charm and delightful characterisation. It’s certainly better than anything featuring John Nettles!