Saturday, May 13, 2017


After premiering on UK movie screens to great acclaim earlier this month, veteran Britcom MVPs Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby's sly-winking genre satire Mindhorn has just reached Netflix, and it's the best time I've had with a straight ahead comedy in a very long time.

Barratt plays Richard Thorncroft, the actor who portrayed the titular TV detective Mindhorn for two seasons in the 1980's. The fictional biography of Bruce P. Mindhorn involves him being captured behind enemy lines while serving as an MI5 special agent and experimented upon by Soviet scientists, who remove his eye and replace it with "a super-advanced cybernetic lie detector", allowing him to literally "see the truth". Upon returning to the Isle of Man, Mindhorn becomes "the best plain-clothes detective the Isle of Man had ever seen".

Believing the show to be beneath his talents, and its location--the Isle of Man--beneath his dignity, Thorncroft quits at the peak of his, and the show's, popularity. He drunkenly slags everyone off on the Terry Wogan Show, and heads off to find greener pastures in Hollywood, where decades of failure have reduced him to hawking male girdles and pressure socks... and those are career high points. 

All seems lost, until a faint glimmer of hope appears back home, across the Atlantic, in the form of a deranged killer who calls himself "the Kestrel" and refuses to talk to anyone... except Mindhorn!

This is high concept farce, it's true. But it's high concept farce at its best, firing on all cylinders, brought to you by top talents who've produced some of the most groundbreaking, consequential, bleeding edge comedy of the new millennium, and they make the absolute most out of all the myriad comedic opportunities offered by the genre. 

And what genre is that? Well, it's somewhat unclear. Mindhorn mines show-within-a-movie, fish-out-of-water, and man-out-of-time tropes in equal measure, but it can also be described as Galaxyquest meets Toast of London. That comparison will make more sense once you've seen the film. There are also some truly uproarious sight gags, and some great character work, with Farnaby's Dutch stuntman character Clive being a particular stand-out. And the cameos! Kenneth Brannagh is just... never mind. You have to see it for yourself.

Longtime fans of Barratt's performance as Howard Moon for three magnificent seasons of the deliriously surreal Britcom masterpiece The Mighty Boosh already know how fantastic he is at portraying deeply flawed and delusional characters. As is the case with Steve Coogan--who co-stars here as a Mindhorn's sidekick, Windjammer, whose spin-off series success massively eclipses that of Mindhorn--Barratt's characters often seem to be living their lives according to rules set out in a ridiculously over-optimistic guidebook. Time and time again, circumstances arise to remind them they don't have what it takes to cash the checks they've been writing. Such scenarios often devolve into exercises in pure cringe, but Mindhorn (the movie, not the character) manages to keep the bathos to a minimum.

Bottom line: Barratt and company serve up a delicious if feather-light comic bon-bon that will leave you with a smile on your face and the phrase "The Benedict Cumberbatch backlash has begun" on your lips. Highly recommended!

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