In the 1980s Richard Thorncroft (Julien Barratt) was a small-screen sensation as the titular star of Mindhorn, a television show set on the Isle of Man about a superhero detective whose bionic eye allows him to ‘literally see the truth’. Time, however, has been cruel to the kitschy show and Thorncroft is now out of work, unable to escape the one role that has come to define him (think Birdman by way of Alan Partidge). When a delusional Mindhorn fan turned murder suspect calling himself ‘The Kestrel’ (Russell Tovey) demands to speak to the ‘real’ Mindhorn, Thorncroft must once again don his bionic eye in a bid to save the day – and his career.
Barrett holds the silly premise together with a superb comic performance that simultaneously allows us to laugh at Thorncroft the arrogant, out-of-touch actor and sympathise with Thorncroft the pathetic, lonely man desperately seeking approval. The Manx location is used well, especially in a climactic fight scene that takes place in the midst of a local float parade. There’s also something strangely plausible about the naff programme Mindhorn, the 80s aesthetic of which is captured effortlessly in the Mindhorn action figures, catchphrases (‘it’s truth time!’) and Thorncroft’s crossover pop hit ‘You Can’t Handcuff the Wind’.
But for all the period accuracy, Mindhorn doesn’t realise its comic potential – there isn’t even a gag involving the truth-telling eye. The various subplots come to nothing. Mindhorn co-star Pete Eastman (a criminally underused Steve Coogan), who has achieved success with a spinoff series called Windjammer, makes a disappointingly brief cameo. It’s revealed that Thorncroft may or may not have a daughter, but the film doesn’t allow us to really care. Meanwhile, the predictable main plot brings in an underdeveloped mystery villain and a small-town conspiracy that feels like a cheap knockoff of Hot Fuzz – or, indeed of fictional 80s TV show Mindhorn.
Truth be told, the numerous flaws in the narrative – the 2D villain, the unnecessary romance – aren’t actually all that problematic precisely because they are so fitting for the 80s style the film spoofs. The same can be said of the abrupt and low-key ending, though you do wonder whether the reality is that they blew the budget on all that fake Mindhorn merchandise.
MINDHORN IS AVAILABLE TO OWN ON 4 SEPTEMBER ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND EST.
Image: Studio Canal