This scrappy Brit-com from first-time director Sean Foley and writer-performers Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby feels like the Comic Strip Presents… mini-movies of the 1980s, blending trashy pop-culture pastiche with a portrait of an irredeemably immature bloke who nevertheless gets a shot at turning his life round.
Richard Thorncroft (Barratt) was once the theoretically cool (in fact prattish) star of a 1980s TV show which mashed up Bergerac and The Six Million Dollar Man. Now, he’s a tubby, bald, wig-wearing loser who can’t get work. After a murder on the Isle Of Man, superfan-turned-supervillain the Kestrel (Tovey) insists he’ll only talk with the great detective Mindhorn.
Thorncroft sees a chance to get some much-needed publicity — and perhaps also get back with his former leading lady Pat Deville (Davis), who (it turns out) is now living with Mindhorn’s former stuntman (Farnaby, doing the broadest Dutch shtick since Goldmember).
Naturally, the case blows up and Richard has to go on the run, on the way encountering a former ‘Mindhorn’ supporting actor (Steve Coogan) whose spin-off series is still running years later. Simmering cops (Riseborough, Schofield) plod about playing straight roles to the loose-cannon pretend hero, and scattershot gags trade in familiar in-jokey showbiz cringiness. Davis (following up The Babadook ) and Riseborough (taking a break from heavier things) are welcome presences, though the lot of women in these irresponsible-old-git comedies is basically to frown disapproval or smile indulgence.
Barratt, last seen grunting in Aaaaaaaah!, deadpans his way through priceless moments and makes Richard not a million miles away from Alan Partridge, but his mix of short-lived confidence and an uncanny knack for always doing the wrong thing are distinctive.
Perhaps the best joke is the use of Manx locations. So many recent films have passed off the Isle Of Man as other places (Me And Orson Welles, Waking Ned), it’s refreshing to see the place play itself, and be the subject of jokes about the locals’ long memories as they hold grudges against Thorncroft for bad behaviour during his brief period of fame.
The by-the-numbers plot — with its blatantly guilty mystery villain — works in context, because it seems ‘Mindhorn’ wasn’t that great a show. This makes Tovey’s investment in it as holy writ almost touching. It also apparently inspired an impressive array of merchandise, which the set dressers have clearly had a ball coming up with. However, a last-reel gag which has Thorncroft sewn and glued into a life-sized ‘Mindhorn’ Action Man figure goes on beyond the point of its being funny. And a thread about his possible long-lost daughter is symptomatic of a number of subplots which collapse before they make sense. Something which happens too often for its short running time.
Verdict Though stuck with stretches of guff and looking all too convincingly like video-era rubbish TV, Mindhorn delivers regular proper laughs and eventually wrings just enough drops of pathos to scrape by.