It’s not very often that a company logo at the start of a film gets a laugh. But the Isle of Man Films one, at the beginning of Mindhorn, really made me chuckle.
Not only was it so pixelated that it made me wonder if anyone at Isle of Man Films had actually seen their logo on a big screen before, but to make things even more surreal, it was followed by the glossy sheen of the Scott Free emblem, pertaining to the production company of four-time Oscar nominee Ridley Scott. What even is this film?
Well, I’m glad you asked, because the 89 minutes that followed me LOL-ing at some logos were a genuine treat to behold. With all its joyous 80s-aping cheese, Mindhorn is a prime example of British comedy at its wonderful weirdest. And it’s got a heart to it, too.
The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt stars as Richard Thorncroft, a former TV detective who’s now promoting thrombosis socks. Richard’s former co-star (Steve Coogan) has eclipsed him completely, and after one truly awful audition (complete with a fun cameo), Richard is willing to try anything to raise his profile. He’ll even, as it turns out, negotiate with a crazed killer that thinks a fictional detective is real.
And so Richard returns to The Isle of Man, where the crowning jewel of his CV was shot back in the 1980s. The glimpses we get of this retro series, which gives the film its name, are pure comedy gold. Detective Mindhorn has a bionic eye patch that can literally see the truth, and Barratt has so much fun dispensing zingers, rolling over car bonnets, awkwardly snogging and chewing the scenery.
But that’s only one layer of the film. Thankfully there are others, which means the 80s humour isn’t overdone. In between the affectionate ribbings of classic cop shows, we see Richard struggling to come to terms with decisions he made as a younger man: the wife he left to move to LA; the friends he abandoned; the co-star he slagged off on Wogan; and there’s also a miffed Dutch stuntman played by co-writer Simon Farnaby, who offers a lot of big laughs.
It’ll probably be the barmy concept that ropes people in here, but it’s the surprisingly emotional core story will make them sit up and take notice. Even the aforementioned nut job fan – whose delusions about Detective Mindhorn lure Richard into an introspective spiral – has some meaningful, affecting character beats. It helps that he’s played by the ever-brilliant Russell Tovey.
It’s worth taking a moment to mention the performances. Barratt does some of his finest work here, balancing a sorrowful and soulful performance with some sensational silliness. Farnaby, Tovey, Coogan, Essie Davis (as Richard’s put-upon journalist ex-wife) and the rest of the cast all bring their own unique charms, but everyone benefits from bouncing off of Barratt’s unpredictable energy. The result is a really strong ensemble with a stellar starring turn at its core.
Director Sean Foley, who transitioned from theatre work to film his first feature with this, also deserves a lot of praise. He manages to bring both the modern comedy film and the 80s TV show to life with a lot of visual flair, despite what can’t have been a massive budget.
The flaws with this film are minimal, with the biggest grievance being that the third act resolution feels a bit wobbly. Towards the end, Mindhorn gets so preoccupied with finding another laugh or another ridiculous plot twist that it doesn’t leave enough time to wrap up the emotional story in a fully satisfying way.
The resolution banks more on silliness than sentiment, leaning so far into the 80s cheese that the admirable arc about Richard’s modern day melancholy is brushed under the rug a bit instead of properly being addressed.
In all honesty, though, ‘it made me want to spend more time with the main character and make sure his emotional issues are properly sorted out’ isn’t exactly the king of filmic flaws. Hopefully, people will rush out to see this, it will make loads of money, and we can have a bit more character material in the sequel. Fingers crossed.
Mindhorn, for the most part, is a gem of a film. It’s got laughs, nostalgia, fun visuals and some really great performances. What difference do a few minor quibbles make when you’re laughing all the way from the company logos to the end credits?
Mindhorn is in UK cinemas from May 5th.