Thing of the Week: Mindhorn

A man could get drunk on this wine

Thing of the Week is a weekly feature that I write each week about a thing I enjoyed that week. The thing for this week’s weekly entry of Thing of the Week is this thing: Mindhorn.

Julian Barratt is Richard Thorncraft is Mindhorn in Mindhorn, the show in Mindhorn

No one would argue that the Americans put out the biggest blockbusters, but no one does self-deprecating comedy quite like the Brits. Mindhorn, written by and starring The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby and directed by Sean Foley, follows Richard Thorncroft, a washed-up actor who had a successful run playing a TV detective during the 80s. The detective in question was the titular Bruce Mindhorn. Mindhorn had a cybernetic eye fitted that could literally see the truth. According to the trailer (we see a few shots of the old show during the film. They are, without exception, wonderful), this made him the best plain clothes detective the Isle of Man had ever seen. When a serial killer with a penchant for plasticine, who dubs himself The Kestral, begins a series of murders on the Isle of Man and insists he will only speak to the fictional Mindhorn, Thorncroft is called back to his old stomping ground. Donning wig, jacket and eye patch, Thorncroft steps back into the old role to help the Manx police in their investigation.

Mindhorn is exactly the kind of low budget character comedy that could easily slip through cinemas more or less totally unnoticed. I urge you not to let this happen. Give it a chance, go and see it. It’s really funny. Now, while this segment is all about celebration and recommendation, there a few things to get out the way. This film is a mess. Right from the off, seeing the low-res logo for Isle of Man Film followed by the crisp and shiny Pinewood Pictures splash screen tells you this is a film with a lot of elements and few of them are ever tied together in a satisfying way. The plot takes a clear backseat to silly gags and the film’s resolution is totally sacrificed for the sake of getting in one last joke. Sub-plots and side characters are introduced for seemingly no reason and the whole thing essentially plays out like a 90-minute Comic Relief sketch. But, boy, is it a good sketch.

The focus is put squarely on Julian Barratt’s Thorncroft. Barratt relishes the role, chewing scenery as the over-slick actor/detective, seemingly oblivious to the tragedy of his life. This is Howard Moon turned up to 11 and it’s consistently hilarious. Around him is a supporting cast that does a fine job, but isn’t given nearly as much to work with. Russel Tovey plays the mentally ill killer Paul Melly convincingly enough, although there is only really one joke here and it wears thin fairly quickly. Kenneth Brannagh and Simon Callow each have amusing cameos as themselves and Steve Coogan does a fine job as Thorncroft’s old colleague from the Mindhorn days who is enjoying a spinoff with much more lasting appeal than the original show. Co-writer Simon Farnaby hams up his dutch stuntman a little too much, but it still plays for a few laughs and Andrea Riseborough and David Schofield deliver admirably straight-laced performances to offset the abundant silliness from the rest of the cast. Also, The Babadook’s wonderful Essie Davis is in it as the leading lady (read: bit of totty) opposite Mindhorn in the old show. It’s a shame that the film presents us with a look at the old show that seems to lambast the treatment of female characters in 80s television as nothing more than a pretty distraction for the hero but then continues to leave her as nothing more than a pretty distraction for the hero. That being said, there is a good bit where she has do the driving because Thorncraft can’t, so there’s that I suppose.

But here’s the thing: you could find plenty of things to criticise here, but that would be kind of missing the point. This is supposed to be hammy and melodramatic. Comedy is, of course, subjective, and if that’s that not your thing you’re likely to find Mindhorn more irritating than amusing. This is British sitcom humour on the big screen. A few jokes miss the mark and one, in particular, hugely outstays its welcome, but Mindhorn’s batting average is way above par. When you’re getting a joke every few lines and most of them are genuinely funny, something is going right. Get out and give Mindhorn a go, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. For full effect, go for a pint or two beforehand and find the smallest cinema you can. This is a decidedly British experience — might as well commit.

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