You remember Mindhorn, don’t you? The hit 80s British detective show about the detective with the bionic eye that could “see truth”? And his catchphrase was a low rumble of “It’s truth time”? C’mon! It was like The Six Million Dollar Man meets Magnum PI… except, of course, it was set on the Isle of Man instead of Hawaii, but they’re almost the same place, right? (Spoiler for my American readers: The Isle of Man is a small rugged place in the middle of the Irish Sea. It’s about as far from a tropical paradise as an island can be without tipping over into being Iceland.)
I honestly did a double take when I started hearing about Mindhorn the movie: Was it a real show? It wasn’t… but this wonderfully silly sendup of fandom and nostalgia does a terrific job of making us wish that it was. From the goofy action sequences to the oh-so-80s opening credits — presented in the film with the full glory of wavering images, tracking lines, and all the charming distortions of an old and overloved VHS recording — we get enough of a taste of Mindhorn the show that I’d love to giggle over some more.
But Mindhorn the movie is not about Mindhorn the show: it’s about washed-up actor Richard Thorncroft, who played Mindhorn but can’t get a gig these days. That’s because he’s a talentless hack, an impediment made worse by his delusions of celebrity grandeur… and those delusions are only amplified when a murderer on the loose on the Isle of Man taunts police with telephone calls during which he insists that he will talk only to Detective Mindhorn, whom he appears to think is a real person.
Cue law-enforcement shenanigans, although the crime plot is almost entirely superfluous; it is of the cheesy-mystery variety that a show like Mindhorn would have played with episode after episode, however, which is fun. Mindhorn is mostly about turning star and cowriter Julian Barratt, of comedy troupe The Mighty Boosh, loose to have an absolute ball as Thorncroft, indulging in all the worst stereotypes of actors with enormous relish. (The other writer is Barratt’s Boosh coconspirator Simon Farnaby, who also appears as Thorncroft’s former stuntman.) There’s a tiny hint of Galaxy Quest, too, in how love of a TV show can inspire fans to be brave and to do good things they might not otherwise do (this is not the murderer, obviously). The supporting cast is an absolute riot: Harriet Walter (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as Thorncroft’s agent; Kenneth Branagh (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and Simon Callow (Viceroy’s House) cameoing as themselves, forcing themselves to tolerate Thorncroft’s idiocy; Steve Coogan (The Secret Life of Pets) and Essie Davis (The Babadook ) as Thorncroft’s former costars, who do not tolerate his idiocy; and Andrea Riseborough (Birdman) as a cop and Russell Tovey (Pride) as a civilian witness, perfectly straight-faced straight men to Barratt’s hilarious pomposity.
And every time you start to feel just a teeny bit sorry for Thorncroft, he does something so revolting, so outrageously self-centered, that any hint of empathy gets smashed. Which is just the way it should be.