Mindhorn is laugh-out-loud funny, ridiculous and engaging, an affectionate parody of 1970s/80s TV shows The Six Million Dollar Man and Bergerac created by Julian Barrett (The Mighty Boosh, Flowers) and Simon Farnaby (Horrible Histories, Detectorists), who also star. The film follows the fortunes of a middle-aged TV has-been who is presented with one last chance to make a splash and redeem himself.
We are introduced to the character of Mindhorn via jerky old videotape of the opening credits to the fictional 1980s TV show. The detective himself is a moustachioed symphony in mustard — leather jacket, roll-neck and matching Triumph TR7 — hamming it up as the voiceover announces: ‘in a world of lies, one man has had enough. It’s truth time!’ Cybernetic surgery has replaced his eye with a robotic ‘super-advanced lie detector’ so that he can ‘see the truth.’
By contrast, the actor who plays Mindhorn, Richard Thorncroft (Barrett) is a self-deluded nitwit with zero self-awareness, who, 25 years later, has made a mess of his career and his life. He is now bald and paunchy, living in a Walthamstow bedsit and reduced to appearing in adverts for male girdles and orthopeodic socks.
After the body of a young woman is washed up on Douglas beach in the Isle of Man, a man calling himself ‘The Kestrel’ phones the police and says he has information about the murder, but will only speak to Mindhorn, whom he believes to be a real person. The police ask Thorncroft to speak to the suspect and attempt to lure him into custody. Initially reluctant to return to a place whose inhabitants he has insulted on the Wogan show, the actor’s agent convinces him that this opportunity is PR gold.
Cue comic mayhem as Thorncroft invades the Isle of Man, bemusing the police and sensible locals with his egotistical behaviour and his Alan Partridge-isms: ‘Let’s nail this mother!’; ‘Just going to drain the python!’ He barges back into the lives of both his old flame (Effie Davies) and cheerful Dutch stuntman (Farnaby), who teases him about his weight (‘too many biscuits. Too many garibaldies’).
As Mindhorn stumbles towards truth in the murder case, he also begins to see his own idiocy. Barrett manages to make us feel pity for this likeable loon and the script never becomes tiresome. His buffoonery is matched by a nicely deadpan supporting cast and some enjoyable cameos from Kenneth Branagh, Simon Callow, Harriet Walter and Mr Partridge himself, Steve Coogan.
Directed by stage veteran Sean Foley, Mindhorn occasionally feels a bit ‘small screen’, but its unusual location adds colour and atmosphere. The Isle of Man’s beaches, viaducts and Great Laxey Wheel, the world’s largest working water wheel, provide memorable backdrops. Many of its inhabitants act as extras during the Manx parade, wearing home-made Mindhorn masks as the huge-headed floats go past. They look like they embraced the spirit of the film, despite its occasional jokes about in-breeding.
The Isle of Man also permeates Mindhorn in its slightly old-fashioned home-made charm, a quirky humour that prevents it from becoming a retro pastiche. It is a joy to see Russell Tovey as ‘The Kestrel’ in his daft home-made costume, flapping around and calling ‘Keee-awwkkk!’
Maybe, as Thorncroft’s agent suggests, ‘going backwards is the new going forwards.’