Mindhorn review

Director: Sean Foley

Starring: Julian Barratt, Essie Davis, Andrea Riseborough, Steve Coogan, Russell Tovey, Simon Farnaby, Richard McCabe

Special Features: Commentary by Julian Barratt & Simon Farnaby, Mindhorn Featurette, Film Shout Outs, Thieves In The Cinema ad, The Mind of Mindhorn, Richard Thorncroft Interview, Clive Parnevik Stunt Masterclass, Music Video: You Can’t Handcuff The Wind

When it comes to movies of the twenty-first century the Eighties are decidedly back in vogue. Synth soundtracks and neon lettering abound in the likes of Drive or It Follows. Now writer/comedian team Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby throw their hat in the retro-themed ring with Mindhorn.

Barratt plays faded thesp Richard Thorncroft, who 25 years ago played the title character. Mindhorn was a rugged detective with a robot eye who lived on the Isle of Man busting bad guys. The show has long gone and he’s stuck on the washed-up actor treadmill, attending disastrous auditions and advertising OAP corsetry. Then a unique opportunity crops up when the suspect in a murder on the island insists on speaking to the fictional crime-cracker. When the police (including Andrea Riseborough) approach Thorncroft to reprise his role the ageing star naturally views this terrible situation as a chance to get back in the limelight.

It starts solidly enough but Barratt and Farnaby opt for a well-trodden path of pratfalls and humiliations for Thorncroft, be he trying to impress ex-wife Patricia Deville (Essie Davis) or squaring up to Steve Coogan’s former co-star Peter Easterman, who of course became more successful. “Where have you been hiding?” asks Easterman. “Inside a busy schedule,” comes the reply. This gem aside, the rest is amusing but about as fresh as Thorncroft’s toupee.

Coogan’s presence is apt: there’s a touch of Alan Partridge about the main character, though whereas Partridge is a fully-rounded creation Thorncroft is a one joke deal and you don’t feel much sympathy. Farnaby’s half-naked stuntman Clive Parnevik got the lion’s share of the laughs from me, mercilessly ribbing Barratt over where his life went whilst appearing completely absurd himself. It’s a shame Parnevik didn’t take a bigger role in the action as the two men clearly have chemistry.

Barratt makes a decent lead but I found myself sharing peoples’ low opinions of him. The journey of self-discovery he’s supposedly on never rings true and the emphasis is firmly on mucking about and the surreal. No bad thing but some meat in the narrative would have lifted a reasonable script to new heights.

As it stands, we have to put up with Russell Tovey’s Paul Melly, an annoying character who spends much of the time emitting bird noises. His attempts to restore Thorncroft to former glories are enjoyably daft but tied into a standard plot involving corruption in high places. Of the supporting cast, Kenneth Branagh appears as himself – with all respect to Barratt, I couldn’t help wondering what a Branagh-infused Mindhorn would have looked like. Davis gives a classy performance as Thorncroft’s tolerant ex and it’s always good to see Riseborough, though on this evidence they’re damned lucky to have her.

The best thing about the production is its keen sense of period cheese. I am an utter nerd for anything which recreates stuff I grew up watching and in my opinion they got this bang on with proper attention to detail. Thorncroft’s single ‘You Can’t Handcuff The Wind’ (“It’s like trying to put thunder in jail!”) forms part of an intriguing range of Mindhorn merchandise that is more entertaining than the film itself. The extras showcase funny bite-sized material featuring Barratt and Farnaby, indicating the characters work more effectively in sketch format.

Overall, I’d rather see a couple of Mindhorns than a dozen Adam Sandler comedies but the movie could have done with more originality and never gets beyond its dated premise. Viewers of a certain age may lap it up. Does it have life outside of its niche? That’s certainly a mystery for Thorncroft to keep his truth-seeking eye on.