UK Release Date: 5th May 2017
Runtime: 89 minutes
Director: Sean Foley
Writer: Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby
Starring: Julian Barratt, Essie Davis, Russell Tovey, Simon Farnaby, Richard McCabe, Andrea Riseborough, Steve Coogan, Harriet Walter, David Schofield
Synopsis: A washed-up actor famous for playing a short-lived TV detective must take up the role again when a killer on the Isle of Man tells police he will only speak to Detective Mindhorn, whom he believes to be real.
The continuing careers of the cast members of The Mighty Boosh have been rather odd. Noel Fielding is about to take up a role almost no one expected, as a kind of psychedelic Mary Berry as one of the hosts on the new incarnation of The Great British Bake Off. His friend Julian Barratt, meanwhile, has joined forces with fellow Boosh performer Simon Farnaby to craft fun, parochial comedy Mindhorn, in which Barratt excels as an actor who has fallen on hard times since rising to fame decades ago as a campy TV detective. It’s all a bit ramshackle and a bit DIY, but its main goal is to be funny and, in that, it succeeds.
Richard Thorncroft (Barratt) is living in a pokey flat in London, desperately trying to get acting work years after his career has fallen apart. He receives a call from police on the Isle of Man, where he previously found fame as a TV detective with a cyborg eye that could ‘literally see truth’, asking him to talk to a killer (Russell Tovey) who believes Mindhorn is a real detective. When he returns to the island, Thorncroft discovers his PR man (Richard McCabe) living in a caravan, a supporting character (Steve Coogan) rich from a spin-off and his former partner (Essie Davis) shacked up with his stunt double (Farnaby).
Mindhorn is essentially an over-extended comedy sketch and it works best when it knows and owns that fact. The vignettes we see of the television show are brilliant in their campy simplicity and the first half an hour of the film is a rapid fire cavalcade of gags. Barratt and Farnaby’s script gets great mileage out of the idea of an actor hopelessly typecast in a role that has now fallen out of favour, aided by some great showbiz cameos, including a delightfully pretentious Kenneth Branagh.
Much of the success of Mindhorn can be placed at the feet of Barratt, who plays the film’s tone absolutely perfectly. He looks increasingly like a Boosh character as the film goes on, culminating in a capoeira scene that is vintage Barratt weirdness. He balances his take on Thorncroft nicely between tragic loser and arrogant peacock. It’s a more layered performance than those of his co-stars, with Farnaby in particular playing a broad caricature with a European accent so crazy it wouldn’t be out of place in an Austin Powers film and Russell Tovey giving it everything as the strange young man who desperately believes Mindhorn can prove that he is innocent of murder.
It’s these supporting turns that give Mindhorn its not inconsiderable charm. The film is, though, a bit of a ramshackle tale that feels as if it’s held together with sticky-back plastic and bits of string like the costumes in a 1960s Doctor Who episode. The film is every bit as rickety as the cop shows it’s parodying, but it’s helped along by the high gag rate in the script, with most of its jokes landing as more or less direct hits. Much like in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, there’s plenty of comic mileage in the parochial setting and, although Mindhorn falls short of that film, they would make for a great double bill.
Mindhorn is a film that feels over-stretched and struggles when it tries to turn its comic premise into a more wide-ranging conspiracy thriller story. It’s best when it sits back, relaxes and enjoys the riotously silly canvas that Barratt and Farnaby have constructed. It’s directed with a considerably more comedic than cinematic eye by Sean Foley, in his directorial debut, but there’s plenty here to enjoy. By the time Barratt sings his ridiculously overwrought ballad ‘You Can’t Handcuff the Wind’ over the closing credits (“it’s like trying to put summer in jail”), the film has certainly left a mark behind. It’s truth time!
Pop or Poop?
Julian Barratt marches on to the big screen with a fun comedic role in Mindhorn, which is a compellingly silly spoof that embraces the shonky charm of its premise and its setting to produce a charming Britcom.
The supporting performances are great and the jokes come thick and fast, but the film begins to fall apart slightly when it tries to do plot. It’s much better when it’s dealing in non-sequiturs and slapstick.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.