UK (2016) Dir. Sean Foley
I’m not overly familiar with The Mighty Boosh, except that it is a surreal British comedy show that I do know spawned TV’s most mainstream cake-eating Goth Noel Fielding. This fact alone made me wonder exactly what sort of creative mind Fielding’s Boosh partner Julian Barratt may possess heading into the viewing of this TV action hero parody.
Richard Thorncroft (Barratt) was the star of the top rated crime detective TV show of the 80’s Mindhorn, in which he played the eponymous character, a cop whose damaged left eye was replaced with a bionic one that allowed him to “literally” see the truth. Now, he is washed up and scrambling for work, having failed in a bid to conquer Hollywood 25 years earlier.
When escaped lunatic, murder suspect and die-hard Mindhorn fan Paul Melly (Russell Tovey) tells police he will only speak with his hero, Thorncroft is engaged by the police to return to the Isle Of Man and resume his most famous role to help bring Melly in. But Thorncroft’s ego ends up compromising the case until he discovers that Melly has proof of his innocence and decides justice must be upheld.
Barrat co-wrote the screenplay with Simon Farnaby, also playing Thorncroft’s Dutch ex-stunt double Clive Parnevik, while the vastly more well known Ridley Scott is one of the main producers. It also features cameos from some of Britain top thesps, like Simon Callow and Kenneth Branagh so a lot of faith has therefore been put into this project as the next big British comedy.
However Steve Coogan, who appears as Thorncroft’s former co-star Peter Eastman, Mindhorn’s sidekick who went on to mega-stardom in the spin-off Windjammer, did this with Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa a few years back. Ironically, there are parallels between the two films thematically and stylistically, both featuring delusional leads clinging onto past glories.
Mindhorn the TV series and character is a keenly observed spoof of the great TV action heroes of the 70’s and 80’s, the obvious influences of The Six Million Dollar Man, Magnum PI and Shoestring buttressed by recognisable touches like the flashy sports car, tacky wardrobe and dated alpha male charisma. The opening credits of the show are authentic enough that one could believe it actually existed in the 1980’s, although whether it would have been as big as suggested is not so credible.
In 2016 Thorncroft is balding, pot bellied and living of fumes in his tiny flat, his most recent work being commercials for male corsets and socks while his agent (Harriet Walter) send him to audition for a film role which he learns is for a black character! The call to resurrect Mindhorn one more time is the break Thorncroft has been waiting for to revive his career, except he only has to answer Melly’s phone call in character.
Cringe inducing comedy ensues when Thorncroft manages to screw that up, even dressing up for the part, in the first of a long line of gaffs that puts his and Melly’s lives in danger. When not walking head first into life threatening chaos, Thorncroft is seeking to reignite the flame of passion with his former co-star and one time lover Patricia Deville (Essie Davis, unrecognisably from The Babadook), now a TV news reporter and wife of Clive.
Thorncroft’s decision to suddenly leave Britain for Hollywood didn’t only affect Patricia but also his PR man, Geoffrey Moncrieff (Richard McCabe), no reduced to living in a caravan and apparently his underpants to. A portly and halitoid slob keen to leech of his former client once again to boost his own profile and coffers, Moncrieff is arguably one of the few characters to make Thorncroft appear pleasant.
While this is a premise that has been done to death, luckily Thorncroft doesn’t believe he IS Mindhorn, keeping that particular grasp on his reality in check – still thinking he is the same hot property he was in the 80’s on the other hand is his downfall. Cue plenty of David Brent-esque delusions of grandeur in front of the police officers too young to even remember Mindhorn to the exasperation of DC Baines (Andrea Riseborough).
It is a case of the devil in the detail in the subsequent scenes of Thorncroft catching up with his past, expecting those he left behind to still be wallowing in mediocrity instead of improving their lot in his absence. Barrat is careful to maintain the obnoxious side of Thorncroft’s persona intact while allowing just a little pathos to seep into the proceedings and make him a little pitiful when seeing how far behind he is now, but we just know he is just one step away from another public embarrassment.
A film like this could never be made in Hollywood because they have to let the underdog win all the time whereas we Brits go in the opposite direction and really crush someone into the ground until that one shoot of hope eventually sprouts from beneath the soil. Basil Fawlty, Alan Partridge, David Brent and now Richard Thorncroft – cut from the same cloth with the same blunt scissors, frayed ends and all.
Not that there is anything inherently wrong with the script (subtitles for us hard of hearing folk would have been nice) but the laughs are sporadic and mildly amusing at best probably because of the forefathers mentioned in the previous paragraph did it so much better. Quite often this feels like a 30-minute TV episode eked out to 88 minutes but it is not for a lack of effort on the part of the cast and crew, all of whom throw themselves into this project with their eyes wide open and tongues firmly in their cheeks.
Maybe the pedigree of the performers and standard of recent British comedy films meant expectations were a little higher than is fair for this film, but in all consideration, for silly, undemanding enjoyment Mindhorn is a comfortable, well-crafted and very amusing way to spend a spare 90-minutes.