Review of "Mindhorn (DVD)"
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FILM ONLY REVIEWIn the 1980s, actor Richard Thorncroft had the world at his feet. He played the cybernetically-enhanced Detective Mindhorm whose bionic eye could literally see the truth. But after a drunken meltdown on “Wogan” his career imploded. Now, twenty-five years on, his ex-girlfriend is shacked up with his former stunt double, his sidekick is a star and he’s just been replaced by John Nettles in a compression sock advert. But when a killer contacts the Isle of Man police, he says he will only speak to Mindhorn, who he believes to be real and Richard sees it as another shot at the big time…
Actor-turned-director Sean Foley makes his debut behind the camera with this likeable, if somewhat scattershot action movie parody. It is a project that has clearly been made on a budget and the visual style is nothing special. The film looks like it has been made for television rather than the big screen, which brings with it much lower expectations than a glossy-looking big-budget movie. But I can’t help thinking how much funnier the jokes about the Isle of Man location would be, if the production values were slicker and it was presented in more glamorous fashion. Instead it comes across as a parochial grey-skied backwater where the police are overworked and the buses are always late – sticking it firmly in the TV sitcom arena. In places, the director apes the style of the cop shows of the 1970s and 80s, with sudden zooms into Mindhorn’s bionic eye or a slow-motion entrance in the police station, which leaves onlookers bemused rather than awestruck. The film is at its best when recreating the main character’s heyday, whether that is through excerpts from the series that made his name or snippets of interviews that show his rise and eventual downfall, all lovingly rendered in VHS-style. This gloriously cheesy slice of 1980s action heroism strongly reminded me of the kind of stuff I watched during my childhood. You can almost hear the TV execs pitching the imaginary TV series as a cross between “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “Bergerac”.I found the storytelling underwhelming because the central plot is rather thin and the subplots about the rivalries between the hero and his various nemeses seem like padding. They give the film an episodic feel, as though this is a bunch of character comedy skits rather than a proper narrative. The crime that the whole film hinges on is very easily solved, so there is a lack of suspense. In addition, aside from the main protagonist (who is very well drawn), there is little in the way of character development, so the audience has no reason to care about the characters.
The humour didn’t quite hit the mark for me. I repeatedly found myself thinking “Oh, that’s funny,” without actually laughing, which was a bit odd. I think this may be because the director’s comic timing is a little on the sloppy side and he is also a bit too willing to throw jokes away. All of the funniest lines are dropped in passing, so by the time you realise what’s been said, it’s too late to laugh. I’m also unsure about how well the comedy will travel, as there are a lot of culturally specific gags, not limited to mentions of “Midsomer Murders” and Thorncroft’s rivalry with John Nettles.Although the movie is a mere eighty-nine minutes long, I thought it felt overstretched. It runs out of steam in its final half-hour and ties everything up a bit too neatly. That being said, the cast is great and everyone goes at their parts with gusto.
The screenplay by Julian Barrett and Simon Farnaby is a combination of a cop show caper and a fish-out-of-water comedy. The central conceit is solid – an unhinged killer refuses to talk to anyone except a fictional TV detective. So the actor who played said cop is brought out of mothballs to help with the investigation. He is a deluded braggart, who sees it as an opportunity to reinvigorate his bottom-of-the-barrel-scraping career. Although the criminal investigation results in some amusing incidents in which the main character accidentally saves the day, it isn’t complex enough to sustain the film throughout its entire running-time. This may be why the writers are apt to go off on tangents about the main protagonist’s various professional and romantic rivalries. This leads to a lot of minor confrontations with petty-minded adversaries who only want to remind the hero of how far he has fallen. Although these encounters may be entertaining, they tend to make the film feel more like a series of comedy sketches than a coherent narrative and they cause the pace to stutter. The romantic subplot allows the main character to regain his humanity and to strive for redemption, but it feels underpowered.The characterisation is very strongly focussed on the main protagonist, but is lacking amongst the supporting players. Richard Thorncroft is a written as a mildly delusional ham actor, whose star has waned, although his ego is very much intact. Although initially brash and insensitive, the buffoonish thesp isn’t an entirely irredeemable, oblivious egomaniac like David Brent from “The Office”. He’s a sort of tragicomic buffoon, who has to come to terms with how far he’s fallen. Paul Melly/The Kestrel is an oddball murder suspect, who can’t grasp that Mindhorn isn’t real. Thorncroft’s former stunt double Clive Parnevik is written as a cocky, preening love rival, who delights in putting the hero down. Pat Deville is the lead’s former girlfriend and co-star, who now works as a fluff piece journalist for the local TV station. She often brings Richard back to earth with a bump. Former sidekick Peter Easterman is the person Thorncroft wishes he could be – rich, successful and famous. The local coppers are the straight-men to the lunacy of the leads – responding to hero’s pretensions with bemusement and disbelief. There are a decent number of one-liners in the script, although the sweary nature of some of them explains the 15 certificate.
Julian Barratt plays Richard Thorncroft with a commendable lack of inhibition, which suggests he’s the exact opposite of the conceited actor he’s playing. He’s willing to throw himself into any situation with gusto, but retains enough humanity for you to be able to sympathise with him, in spite of the character’s obvious shortcomings. Russell Tovey is wonderfully childlike as Paul Melly/The Kestrel, giving a completely unselfconscious turn as Mindhorn’s deluded greatest fan. Simon Farnaby looks like he’s having a whale of a time as Thorncroft’s often shirtless rival in love, Clive Parnevik, complete with comedy “smoke and a pancake” Dutch accent. Australian actress Essie Davis is a sympathetic foil to the main character, bringing some much-needed normality to proceedings as love interest Pat Deville. She also puts on a creditable British accent. Andrea Riseborough feels wasted in a one-note turn as DC Baines. Steve Coogan also pops up as Richard’s smug and infinitely more successful former sidekick Peter Eastman. Jessica Barden is underused as Jasmine. She’s a talented comic actress in her own right, but she doesn’t get a chance to show what she can do. Alun Lewis does his stock-in-trade gruff northern thing as Chief Inspector Derek Newsome, playing his part in gamely deadpan fashion. Uber-luvvies Kenneth Branagh and Simon Callow also lob in cameos as themselves.The original music by Keefus Ciancia and David Holmes features a range of styles. From English light orchestral style vocals, strings and piano, to darker arrangements of rising flutes, strings, chimes and burring brass and occasional cheesy synthesizer motifs. Then there is Julian Barratt’s rendition of Thorncroft’s only musical hit “Can’t Handcuff the Wind”, which is exactly the kind of naff soft rock power ballad you would expect from a TV star in the 1980s. It’s cringe-inducingly awful in the best possible way. It’s pretty much the only memorable part of the soundtrack.
I really wanted to like “Mindhorn” more than I did. I thought the central premise was sound, but the direction could have done with better comic timing and a faster pace. I found the writing unfocussed because the production felt more like a load of sketches based on a character than a proper narrative. I liked the performances overall, but I felt some of the cast members (particularly the women) were given short shrift. I think if you’re a fan of things like “The Mighty Boosh” (which Julian Barratt also stars in), you’ll probably enjoy it more than I did. I also think it’s one of those films that will work better on the small screen, as that medium will better match the production’s modest ambitions.
Product Information : Mindhorn (DVD)
Manufacturer's product description
Classification: 15 years and over
Video Category: Feature Film
DVD Region: DVD
Actor(s): Julian Barratt, Essie Davis, Andrea Riseborough, Harriet Walter, Simon Farnaby
Production Year: 2016
Director(s): Sean Foley
Main Language: English
Listed on Ciao since: 22/09/2017