Are you re-watching episodes of QI and startling yourself with how often you remember the answers? Do you have a VPN set up to watch 8 Out of 10 Cats? Are you slightly angry that my previous question didn’t conclude with “Does Countdown”? This hackneyed rhetoric is just a way for me to say that if you enjoy British comedy, then Sean Foley’s Mindhorn is definitely for you. Even if you’re not crazy about the Brits and their particular brand of whimsy, you’re likely to find something to enjoy in this weird little farce.
The dry irreverence of the humor follows from a familiar premise: a washed-up actor from an ‘80s Cop show called Mindhorn is called in to help out the local police with a killer who thinks that detective Mindhorn is real and will only discuss an outstanding case with him. The actor is Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt, who co-wrote the screenplay), and has an unearned smarminess about him like all of the best has-beens. The killer is named Paul Melly, but he prefers to be called “The Kestrel”. And, since Thorncroft is coming back to his old stomping grounds anyway, he might as well try to parlay this “gig” into a career revival.
Like all the best farces, Mindhorn unravels fairly quickly under the weight of its absurd characters (in a good way). Barratt is pitch-perfect as Thorncroft, always far too confident in his abilities and ready to manipulate his way back to stardom. His ex-girlfriend and costar Patricia (Essie Davis) has moved on with her life, getting together with Thorncroft’s old stuntman Clive (Simon Farnaby, the other writer). The cast of weirdoes is practically endless, and includes some famous Brits playing themselves and Steve Coogan being a dick as the star of a successful spin-off of Thorncroft’s old show.
Most of the fun of Mindhorn comes from watching all this weirdness play out as the crime plot is revealed. On a basic level, the film isn’t too dissimilar from something like The Big Lebowski. It’s framed by its crimey, noir-adjacent plot, but that’s certainly not the point. We’re far more interested in these characters, the way they interact, and their peccadilloes than any specific plot point, though I would argue that the underlying plot of Mindhorn is fairly clever. Some of the reveals are telegraphed ahead of time, so depending on how much you focus on clues and hints in a story like this, you may find yourself a bit irked that the obvious things were obvious.
But really, the brilliant mixture of dry British wit, vulgarity, and farce is worth the price of admission. The comedic tone is remarkably malleable, sometimes embracing an outright ridiculousness and other times delving into much darker and cynical territory. This alchemy works, somehow never feeling too grab-bag or haphazard. As a meager example, Thorncroft practices capoeira and hilariously talks it up multiple times. When he finally performs the martial art , the result is absurd and worthy of heavy eye-rolling. Minutes earlier, our main characters experienced a tender moment with genuine emotion, then subverted it through their idiocy. Somehow, it all blends together just fine.
Mindhorn is uproariously funny, sports a clever mystery plot, and has a great collection of peculiar characters. It’s probably never going to receive the attention of more mainstream comedies, but it is far more rewarding than what passes for the standard Hollywood comedy.
Mindhorn was added to Netflix recently, so you may have seen it advertised in the “Originals” section. It probably didn’t ring any bells when you first came across it, but you should definitely give it a shot. You know you’ll be surfing Netflix for 26 minutes and just decide to watch another episode of The Office. Watch Mindhorn instead. Then, make sure to come back and leave a comment about how unfunny the movie is and how wrong I am about everything!