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MINDHORN (2017) review

June 11, 2017

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written by: Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby
produced by: Jack Arbuthnott and Laura Hastings-Smith
directed by: Sean Foley
rated: Not Rated (Content equivalent to R rating)
runtime: 89 min.
U.S. release date: May 5, 2017 (exclusively on Netflix)

 

“And that’s Capoeira!”

 

The Brits have a corner on the comedy of the awkward. Likely due to their very formal society and social norms, British comedies have a way of mining laughs from characters that buck those norms in the most uncomfortable ways possible. You can add the new film “Mindhorn” to the list of great British comedies that make an audience simultaneously laugh and cringe.

In the late 80s, a television program was shot on the Isle of Man titled “Mindhorn,” following the exploits of the titular detective, played by blowhard actor Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt), who possessed a robotic eye that could literally see the truth. Fast forward thirty years and Thorncroft is now a washed-up actor trying desperately to cling to any semblance of fame. He receives an offer to return to the Isle of Man where a killer is on the loose and the delusional suspect will only talk to the fictional character Thorncroft once played. He takes the offer almost immediately, seeing this as a chance at a career revival rather than an opportunity to do some good in the world.

 

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Fans of cheesy 70s and 80s gimmicky action shows like “The Six Million Dollar Man” or “Knight Rider” will instantly recognize the world established in “Mindhorn,” and will similarly recognize the outrageousness of this film’s premise. Upon returning to the Isle of Man, Thorncroft attempts to recapture old glories with his former flame and co-star Patricia (Essie Davis of “The Babadook”), who has since shacked up with Thorncroft’s Dutch stunt double Clive (Simon Farnaby). There’s also his former co-star Peter Eastman (Steve Coogan), whose “Mindhorn” spinoff “Windjammer” has become infinitely more successful than its predecessor, and Thorncroft’s former manager Geoffrey (Richard McCabe), both of whom are eager to exploit their washed up colleague for their own ends.

Most of the humor comes from Thorncroft’s obliviousness to his own pompous behavior. Whether he’s annoying the police force eager to solve a case or just generally alienating everyone around him with his alpha male bravado, the only thing he’s any good at is driving people away. This central conflict begins to wear a little thin as the film goes along, and overall the film feels like a great thirty minute sketch drawn out to feature length, but the world of the film is so well realized that these become minor quibbles.

There is a ton of love put into this film from its creators, and watching the film a second time, I was surprised at the number of set-ups and payoffs there are within its relatively short running time. Many jokes that seemed like throwaway gags upon first viewing are actually well established payoffs to earlier set-ups, making me admire the film much more.

 

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The film’s cast is top notch across the board with Barratt delivering an amazingly well rounded portrayal of a rather one-dimensional man. Simon Farnaby’s hilarious Dutch accent makes his Clive an a-plus scene stealer, and everyone from Coogan to the cameoing Kenneth Branagh and Simon Callow manage to land major laughs.

If I have any complaint at all, it’s that the film is something of a boy’s club. The female characters are mostly foils to the comedy or forced to be buttoned down while the men are acting crazy. Don’t get me wrong, Essie Davis, Andrea Riseborough, and the other actresses give their all to the material, I just wish the material had risen to their level.

These are all fairly minor issues, however, as “Mindhorn” manages to be one of the funniest movies of the year. I would encourage you to watch all the way through the credits to hear Thorncroft’s fake hit single “You Can’t Handcuff the Wind,” for further proof of the loving care put into this film by its creators. There’s nothing in “Mindhorn” you haven’t seen before, and probably nothing that hasn’t been done better elsewhere, but it’s so earnest and so funny that it’s virtually impossible to hate.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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