By Joe Frost
You know when a trailer looks hilarious, then you turn up to the film and discover all the gags were squeezed into those two minutes of teaser?
Julian Barratt (of Mighty Boosh fame) co-wrote and stars in Mindhorn, the story of washed-up actor Richard Thorncroft, who was the star of a 1980s TV show, ‘Mindhorn’, a ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ knockoff about a police officer with a bionic eye who can literally see the truth.
Thorncroft walked out on the show in the early ‘90s for the promise of a bigger, better career in Hollywood, but it didn’t work out, and now, 25 years later, he’s doing humiliating ads to make ends meet.
The story picks up with Thorncroft being brought back to the Isle of Man, where ‘Mindhorn’ was filmed and set, to help police catch a man calling himself ‘The Kestrel’ who is suspected of murdering a local woman.
Making things particularly difficult is the fact Thorncroft is not well liked by the locals, having bad mouthed the people he worked with and the Isle of Man itself, as well as walking out on his girlfriend, Patricia (Australia’s Essie Davis) all those years ago.
What follows is, sadly, a poor police procedural, with attempts to add comedy via Barratt’s vain, self-involved, deluded Thorncroft. Thing is, that character has become so common these days – you’d think Netflix would have worked it out, considering one is the titular star of their brilliant cartoon series Bojack Horseman – that there are very few fresh laughs to be found.
Mindhorn got a limited release in the UK on May 5, before Netflix’s release of it in other territories on May 12. I’m reluctant to say that tells you all you need to know about it – I’ve still got high hopes for War Machine later this month – but it was pretty much your bog-standard, straight-to-DVD effort.
Barratt’s history tells us he’s a special comic talent, but this is nowhere near his best work. He does his usual thing – I’ve only really seen him in The Mighty Boosh, so this may be wide of the mark, but he seems to always play the same character. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but you really need to give that character novel situations to work within and interesting co-stars to bounce off. Neither of those are present here.
In fact, that there are no good parts for Barratt’s co-stars is half the tragedy of this film, because he obviously picked up the phone to some of his seriously talented mates to appear, with Kenneth Branagh, Simon Callow and Steve Coogan all turning up. But none are given anything substantial to sink their teeth into. This is almost forgiveable in the cases of Branagh and Callow, who play fictionalised versions of themselves, but Coogan’s character comes across as a complete afterthought.
And while the whole thing is obviously a vehicle for Barratt’s comic talents (and apparently for those of his co-writer, Simon Farnaby – although his character, Clive Parnevik, is a lame, shallow drawing of an inappropriate Dutch [slash person from any of those northern European countries] person) the crime-story frame is both entirely predictable yet largely inexplicable. They really phoned it in.
It wasn’t devoid of funny moments, but they were way too few and far between for a film that doesn’t even hit 90 minutes’ runtime.
Mindhorn is streaming on Netflix now.