Growing up an avid telly addict in the 1980s was good fun. I was a full-on devotee of The A-Team and thought Knight Rider was just about the most wonderful thing in existence. The fact that these action-adventure shows, and others like them, were actually ludicrous nonsense took me far longer to clock than it should have done.
Mindhorn (cert 15, 89 mins,★★★) is in no doubt about the stupidity of these kinds of programmes. The film, co-written by and starring Julian Barratt (best known for his work in The Mighty Boosh), takes its title from a fictional series about a detective, Mindhorn, stationed on the Isle of Man, who is fitted with a bionic eye that allows him to “see the truth”.
After a brief introduction to the TV show’s history, we jump forward to the present. In the show, Mindhorn had been played by Richard Thorncroft, a washed-up actor who now spends his days fitting his wig, failing auditions and being laughed at by Simon Callow in scenes that recall that magnificent Channel 4 sitcom Toast of London. Things are looking bleak for Thorncroft when he is given a chance to revive his most famous role. A serial killer is on the loose on the Isle of Man, and is demanding to speak to Mindhorn, who he thinks is a real detective. With no other work in prospect, Thorncroft returns to the island and a defiantly unserious caper unfolds.
This is a knockabout film, smutty and with downright silly gags. They come thick and fast, and are often very funny, from Thorncroft’s run-in with Kenneth Branagh (playing himself) to his jousting with co-writer Simon Farnaby’s perennially bare-chested Dutch stuntman. There’s also strong support from Richard McCabe, Russell Tovey and Steve Coogan (whose Alan Partridge is clearly a reference point for Thorncroft’s vain idiocy). Like the kind of 1980s programme Mindhorn apes, psychological nuance, inventive plotting and rounded characterisation do not feature in any way. This is an understandable choice from film-makers utterly committed to the art of comedy. But the morsel of emotional truth we do get from Thorncroft’s bonding with Tovey’s young lunatic isn’t enough to turn a decent comedy into a great movie.
As Mindhorn goes full pelt into its rushed and poorly realised action film finale, it becomes hard to care too much about how proceedings will pan out, even though the characters are supposedly in mortal danger. It’s a shame because, in the end, the film feels like a missed opportunity. When it comes to comedy, a little seriousness can go a long way.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection