How do you feel about British humor? That’s the question anyone scrolling through Netflix should ask themselves when they stop on Mindhorn. The people from England have a peculiar brand of humor that not everyone vibes with. It’s often dark, dry, and subtle. It goes over the heads of some and makes others roll their eyes. However, for a select group (myself included) British humor is, in a word, awesome. Mindhorn is decidedly British, and that’s either a good thing or a bad thing depending on where you stand on the question posed at the start of this paragraph.
Mindhorn is the story of Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt), an actor who once starred in a popular 80s action show called Mindhorn. Thorncroft’s Mindhorn was a tough detective with a bionic eye that let him “see the truth.” Twenty-five years later and Thorncroft’s career has gone as far as starring in embarrassing commercials. Thorncroft returns to the Isle of Man, where Mindhorn filmed when a police investigation gives him a chance to reignite his career.
“The Benedict Cumberbatch backlash has begun!” – Mindhorn
The premise of Mindhorn forms a rock-solid foundation for a comedy. Like Hot Fuzz, The film is unabashedly having fun with the great action of the 80s. In this case, it’s with TV shows like The Six Million Dollar Man, Starsky & Hutch, and Knight Rider. There’s no doubt that David Hasselhoff is a big influence on the movie. In fact, the movie seems to built around the idea of “What if David Hasselhoff’s career went deep down south after Knight Rider?”
The thrust of the film centers around a police investigation into a murder. The only suspect, Melly (Russell Tovey), will only speak to Detective Mindhorn. It’s here that Thorncroft sees an opportunity to prove how awesome he is. Melly turns out to be such a huge fan of the show that his home is like a comic book store dedicated to the one show.
The funniest bits are gut-busting, but they come few and far between.
At its best, Mindhorn produces some seriously hilarious moments. The best stuff coming from the footage of the TV show which looks cheese-tactically 80s. Viewers are even treated to the classic action show intro that explains the entire premise of the show. The filmmaker’s don’t forget the soundtrack, offering up one of the funniest things in the movie “You Can’t Handcuff The Wind” a song recorded by Thorncroft after the show ended. It’s another wink and nod to the career of The Hoff.
Along for the film’s ride is The Babadook’s Essie Davis who plays Thorncroft’s former co-star and lover, Patricia Deville. Patricia has moved on, becoming a successful journalist, and is now living with Clive, a former stuntman, played by Simon Farnaby. Cue the love triangle, though this one is not your typical and makes way for a moment in which Farnaby explains how often he “drives Mindhorn’s car” from the show. In case it’s not clear, Clive lets Thorncroft know he’s talking about driving Patricia.
Co-Producer Steve Coogan(with Ridley Scott of all people) also makes a cameo as Peter Eastman, a former co-star on Mindhorn. Eastman’s “Windjammer” character spun off into its own show that’s now in its 16th season. Windjammer is so popular that it produces a line of weather resistant clothing, a subtle joke that defines British comedy. Eastman holds no love for his former co-star, and neither does Kenneth Branagh who appears as himself.
Mindhorn is ultimately a mixed bag. The funniest bits are gut-busting, but they come few and far between. There’s an unevenness to the film, and it feels underwritten. At the same time, it’s a fun ride watching Barrett’s Mindhorn learn just what an asshole he is.