Film Review: Mindhorn

Unless you’ve been cryogenically frozen recently* you must have seen the images of Julian Barratt from Mindhorn. Either doing a high-kicking stunt or wearing an eye-patch. These images are amusing but are nothing compared to the film, which is a breathless hoot from start to finish.

The plot is slightly complex but fiendishly funny. Julian Barratt plays Richard Thorncroft, a hammy old actor who back in the eighties was a bit of a sex god thanks to his role as the Isle of Man’s top dog detective Mindhorn. But then he got too big for his boots, thought he was heading to Hollywood and dissed his fellow cast members and even the Isle of Man.

Now, three decades on, life is tough. He lives in a tatty, lonely Walthamstow bedsit and scrapes a living doing tacky ads such as plugs for surgical socks that prevent deep vein thrombosis - until John Nettles gets that gig. But things suddenly look up when a murder suspect (Russell Tovey) on the Isle of Man – who thinks Mindhorn in real – says that he will only communicate with the fictional detective. Could some actual crimebusting rehabilitate him?

From this plot director Sean Foley extracts every possible gag going, from the physical to the verbal. There’s the old footage from the original show, for example, in which we see Mindhorn’s eye being rebuilt Six Million Dollar Man-style. It’s never quite clear how his “truth-seeing” vision helps him crack cases but, well, who cares when you are so busy laughing?

Barratt is great in the lead role, conveying the tragedy of the former star down on his luck, but also the misplaced arrogance once he thinks he is on the up again. The supporting cast is terrific too. Simon Farnaby, who co-wrote the script with the jazz-noodle loving Mighty Boosh star, is on good form as Thorncroft's South African** stunt double Clive Parnevik who has a penchant for walking around with his shirt off. 

Elsewhere Steve Coogan pitches up as actor Peter Eastman, who back in the 1980s played Windjammer, a minor Mindhorn character whose spin-off series was a massive hit. And Kenneth Branagh and Simon Callow show their comic chops in early scenes when Thorncroft is trying to land work via meetings with his agent (Harriet Walter) and auditions for films that he is totally unsuited for. Very Toast of London, but still extremely good.

If there is a niggle it is that the spirit of Alan Partridge casts a big shadow over the film and not just because Coogan (who also exec produced) is in it. Thorncroft has the same lack of self-knowledge as Partridge, he is a bit past it like Partiridge. And even elements of the plot echo Partridge - Mindhorn’s feeble strut and miscued high five in the police station is very similar to the way Partridge attempts to bond with the cops in Alpha Papa.

There are further overlaps. The murder suspect’s lair is covered in Mindhorn pictures - shades of Partirdge’s mentalist stalker. There is even some cock and balls graffiti on a car, which I’m sure has cropped up in lots of films, but mainly reminds me of the obscene scribbles on Partridge’s saloon.

But ultimately these are minor quibbles because Mindhorn is consistently laugh-out-loud entertaining. It’s a very English film, with lots of small asides (such as a neat Oliver Reed gag)  that you might miss if you blink or come from America. Hopefully his biggest role in a movie to date will boost Barratt’s film career. We already know he is a great comedian, Mindhorn shows what a great comedy actor he can be too.  

Mindhorn is released in the UK on May 5.

*In which case you won't be reading this.

**Could be Dutch.

***%%%+++Respect to Chris Lyons, who gets a credit for "special effects teeth"


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