Stars: Julian Barratt, Essie Davis, Andrea Riseborough, Kenneth Branagh, Steve Coogan, Russell ToveyJulian Barratt, Essie Davis, Andrea Riseborough, Kenneth Branagh, Steve Coogan, Russell Tovey
Released: 5th May 2017 (UK)
Reviewer: Scott Bates
Creator of cult TV comedy The Mighty Boosh, Julian Barratt, and his frequent collaborator Simon Farnaby, make their second venture to the big screen after 2009’s Bunny And The Bull with Mindhorn, which follows an Alan Partridge-esque washed-up actor getting one last shot at notability.
Richard Thorncroft (Barratt) is a middle-aged, overweight, faded actor living in a small flat in Walthamstow, who spends his time crashing auditions that aren’t his and badgering his agent for any work she can get him. Thirty years ago, however, Thorncroft was the star of Mindhorn, a popular TV series about a detective with a bionic eye that could quite literally “see the truth”. But Mindhorn has long since ended, and so have Thorncroft’s days as a star, although it looks like his fortunes might be about to change when he’s contacted by the police, who want him to come back to the Isle Of Man – where the show was set – and reprise his role as the once-famous detective to catch a serial killer (Russell Tovey) who believes Mindhorn was a real person, and says he will only speak with him.
As you can probably take away from that short synopsis, Mindhorn shares much in common with Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, the cinematic debut of Steve Coogan’s beloved TV/radio host, who had been around for over twenty years by the time he hit the big screen. Both films involve formerly successful showbiz-types, who, now in middle-age, are no longer as big as they were and have become somewhat deluded in the process, being called in by the police to help with a dangerous situation – a hostage crisis in Partridge, a serial killer in Mindhorn. Both films even star Coogan, however his role in Mindhorn is just a few scenes. But unlike Partridge in his film, the character of Richard Thorncroft is an entirely new creation, and one that, in the film’s relatively short 89 minutes, is developed surprisingly well and despite his large ego and self-obsessed nature, remains likeable and endearing. He’s not a bad person at all – just someone who longs for his glory days and is understandably jealous of his co-star Peter Eastman (Coogan), who’s Mindhorn spin-off Windjammer is now in its fourteenth season. Upon his arrival back to the Isle Of Man, Thorncroft also discovers that his co-star and former flame Patricia (Essie Davis) is now married to his old stuntman Clive (Farnaby) and has a daughter named Jasmine (Jessica Barden), whom Thorncroft becomes convinced is his. His attempts to rekindle things with Patricia are both sweet and often very funny, and a visit to Eastman soon becomes extremely awkward to say the least.
Mindhorn is at its strongest – and weakest – though when Thorncroft is doing what’s he’s been assigned to do – help the police catch the serial killer who demands to speak to him. It’s here that Thorncroft enters Mindhorn-mode, effectively becoming his character in the real world as he and the police team, headed by DC Elena Baines (Andrea Riseborough) move closer to catching the suspect. There are plenty of genuine laughs to be had here, as Thorncroft/Mindhorn bumbles through the case, often clashing with the cops, however this side of the plot eventually becomes too convoluted and unnecessarily complicated – business involving a videotape, police corruption and local politicians just ends up becoming head-scratching, which isn’t what you want from a farcical comedy such as this.
Nevertheless, Mindhorn certainly works overall as a Partridge-style comedy and has a lot of laughs, although it’s a shame about the direction of the plot in the second half – this could’ve been a solid four-star film although it gets so overly complex the film is never really able to hit the same kind of high that the Partridge film did in its radio van/pier climax. There aren’t really many comedies out at the moment, and Mindhorn is definitely worth watching once, although it’s certainly not the kind of film you need to revisit.
Oh, and Boosh fans – Noel Fielding isn’t in it.