I guess I’ve always had a bit of a weird sense of humour but, as I get older, it’s becoming more and more obvious to m that people are just nodding politely whenever I’m trying to be funny. Years ago, my twin sister prepared me to meet her boyfriend for the first time by uttering the phrase “don’t be weird”. There’s nothing quite like sisterly love, eh? So, yeah, you could say I’m a bit strange at times. I blame television. Okay, I blame the television I grew up watching. I was a huge fan of weird British comedies like Spaced, The Adam and Joe Show, Alan Partridge, The League of Gentlemen, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Peep Show, and, most importantly for the purposes of this post, The Mighty Boosh. Now, and I feel super fucking old having to write this, it’s been 10 years since the final episode of the show aired and the pair have gone on to other things. Noel Fielding has entered the murky, innuendo filled world of baking shows whilst Julian Barratt has done bits and bobs in films, television, and theatre. Maybe its just his Northern charm but I have always absolutely adored Julian Barratt. I knew plenty of girls around my age who were major fans of Vince Noir’s face. Personally, I was always a bit in love with Howard Moon. So, when Mindhorn was announced I was beyond excited. Of course, being as useless as always, I never got round to watching it… until now.
From what I can recall, Bruce Mindhorn first made an appearance in The Mighty Boosh radio show as a poet taking part in a talent competition. Clearly, since then, he’s gone through a bit of an identity crisis and rebranded himself as the greatest law enforcer on the Isle of Man. Detective Bruce Mindhorn, gifted with a cybernetic eye that could see the truth, was the star of a hit 1980s tv cop show played by actor Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt). Caught up in the wave of popularity that came with his role in the show, Richard left the Isle of Man to make it in Hollywood. Cut to 25 years later and Richard is a shadow of the man he once was but, thanks to a handy murder, he is about to be given an opportunity to turn his life around. A young girl’s body has been found and the deluded prime suspect is demanding to speak to Detective Mindhorn. Can Richard get back into character and help the police capture their man? Or will his quest for fame hinder the investigation?
Written by and starring Barratt and Simon Farnaby, Mindhorn isn’t exactly what you’d call cutting edge. We’ve seen the basic premise of a washed-up former star getting one last chance for redemption countless times. The plot is hardly a stretch but it does provide some fun. It introduces us to the weird, slightly awkward and occasionally laugh out loud funny world of Richard Thorncroft and, despite being incredibly similar, it’s still ever so slightly better than 2013’s Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. A great deal of the humour comes thick and fast in the opening scenes where we learn the history of Bruce Mindhorn and the people associated with the show. The spoofs on classics like Bergerac and Six Million Dollar Man are spectacular and you can well believe, now more than ever, that a show that insane would have been broadcast. Throughout the film there are hints as the same kind of zany humour that filled all 3 series of The Mighty Boosh but, kind of, more rooted in reality. I’m not going to pretend the jokes hit every single time but there is enough comedic energy to keep driving the meagre plot forward.
What absolutely helps is that all of the actors tackle their roles with aplomb. Julian Barratt’s clearly doesn’t give a shit about anything but making people laugh. Up for anything, his portrayal of Throncroft is both hilarious and strangely touching. The obvious narrative wouldn’t work anywhere near as well as it does if you didn’t, despite everything, actually give a shit about this guy. As he slowly realises what an arse he’s been, you’ll find all of that initial annoyance fading away. His co-writer is on less solid ground as Thorncroft’s ex-stuntman, Clive, thanks to a Dutch accent that is only marginally better than the one last heard in Austin Powers: Goldmember but you’ve got to give him props for happily walking around the Isle of Man topless and wearing denim short shorts. Russell Tovey puts every effort into his role as The Kestrel, the deluded young man who the police are chasing and holds his fair share of the laughs. Steve Coogan pops his head up as Thorncroft’s ex-costar who found insane fame thanks to a spin-off from the original show. It’s hardly Coogan’s best or most memorable work but it sure beats anything he did in the early 2000s (*cough* The Parole Officer *cough*).
Which, ultimately, is fine. Mindhorn is an uneven and kind of mediocre comedy that will appeal to fans of Barratt and those who miss the glory days of 70s cop shows. It is, in a way, a warning to the idea of nostalgia and fandoms that never quite finds its voice enough to relay its message. What is does, for the most part, is manage to be funny. Not as much as it would have liked but, you know, God loves a trier. And yes, it does have the whiff of a 30 minute TV episode that has been stretched out for the big screen but, aside from a few plot strands that do nowhere, it’s super easy to mask the smell. Mindhorn won’t be for everyone, I realise, but, after dismal big screen appearances from both Alan Partridge and David Brent in recent years, Barratt has managed to move his brand of comedy to film. Yes, this is very different from a Mighty Boosh movie but, maybe, that’s why it works as well as it does. This film isn’t trying to be fresh or relevant. It just wants to make you laugh and, goddammit, it occasionally will do.