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Ah, the 80s, the go-to decade of late that has been source for a growing number of films and television shows to tap into, riding on the coattails of a wave of nostalgia. While parody is a staple, the tropes of any by-gone era is an easy target to prop up a plot with, yet many productions are at least giving the 80s some humble respect, if not a bit of humorous skewering.
By and large, one of the most popular genres on 1980s television was the cop show, and with technology booming at the time, studios were transforming their lead characters into amalgams of man and machine, be it with the tools they used, such as suped-up talking cars, or more typically, their bodies themselves. With Mindhorn, the fictional show in this movie, it was a detective with a hi-tech lie-detecting eye, a sort of a Magnum P.I. type with the subtly of a Knight Rider episode.
Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt) is an out-of-work actor, a once famous TV star who is but a footnote now, a face few remember, including the likes of director Kenneth Branagh (playing himself) who has no idea who Thorncoft is when he shows up for an audition (for Jamaicans), his name a mistake on the call sheet. The thing is, Thorncroft used to be a household name, or rather his television persona was. Mindhorn was detective show, cheesy as it were, but once hugely popular, spawning a gaggle of commercial products, including puzzles, dolls, games, and the like. As one person says, “My mum used to like it,” and so to apparently does deranged alleged killer Paul Melly (Russell Tovey), who says he’ll only speak with Mindhorn when dealing with cops, believing the fake detective is real.
Directed by Sean Foley, and co-written by Barratt, Mindhorn, in description, seems like the makings of a 3-minute comedy sketch, its potential tapped by the time the title appears on screen, and yet, led by a genuinely compelling story and a series of spot-on performances, the movie unpacks one funny moment after another, keeping momentum for most of its runtime. It centers on a relic of a man who is naturally delusional, thinking he is larger than he is. Well in fact, his body is, but the point is, he figures himself an eternal talent, talking down to others and basically oblivious to the toxic effect he has wherever goes, leaving a trail of destruction in his path. As a has-been, he’s a has-has-been.
Barratt, perhaps best known for the comedy series The Mighty Boosh, pokes great fun at the era and himself, creating a character that is nothing short of hysterical, and while there’s not much new in terms of what to expect from such a despicable character on a journey of redemption, Barratt delivers a manic performance that is best defined as unhinged, and therefore, endlessly watchable. By the time he’s been involuntarily reassembled as an action figure of himself, well, it’s off the rails.
Surrounded by plenty of familiar names, including the irreplaceable Essie Davis, Andrea Riseborough, Steve Coogan, and Simon Callow, Mindhorn is a chaotic bit of lunacy, a gem for fans of the genre, and for newcomers, a smart and funny entry into the lot. Well worth a watch.
Movie description: Mindhorn is a 2017 Netflix original film about a former 80s actions star pulled from retirement when a madman demands he speak only to him, thinking he is a real detective.
Director(s): Sean Foley
Actor(s): Julian Barratt, Essie Davis, Kenneth Branagh, Andrea Riseborough