Tuesday, 9 May 2017
Mann Of Action
UK 2016 Directed by Sean Foley
UK cinema release print.
When I first saw the trailer for Mindhorn some 6 to 8 weeks ago I looked at it and thought, yeah, looks like a film with a really strong comedy premise but the trailer really isn’t all that funny. Then, however, I remembered back to 1988, when I was almost dragged kicking and screaming to a film I didn’t want to go and see, Terry Gilliam’s remake The Adventures Of Baron Munchaussen, because the trailers had been so awful and offensive. That was the year I realised how misleading some trailers can be because Gilliam’s film, despite a much troubled shooting history, was an absolute instant classic. So I thought, yeah, Mindhorn... how bad can it be? After all, I’d sat through the truly terrible Johnny Depp movie Mordecai and lived to tell the tale (which I tell right here) and I was pretty sure that it couldn’t possibly be any worse than that.
In this prediction, at least, I was more or less right. It’s still not as bad as Mordecai.
Mindhorn is written by, and stars, Julian Barratt (who was so good in the absolutely brilliant Aaaaaaaah! which I reviewed here), playing fictional ‘career on the rocks’ actor Richard Thorncroft, who was best known for his cheesy, Isle of Mann based TV show in the 1980s called Mindhorn. In that show he portrayed the eyepatch wearing title character who had an advanced eyeball that could see into the truth of a person’s soul. However, cut to more or less modern times and a psychotic killer also based on the Isle of Mann, known only as The Kestrel and who thinks Mindhorn was a real person, will only negotiate if Mindhorn is brought in and so the police call in Thorncroft, who goes there with a mind to getting himself some much needed publicity for some kind of comeback or deal further along the road. However, all is not what it seems and there are bigger things afoot than the majority of the supporting characters are aware.
That’s pretty much all I’m giving away of the plot but the film takes Thorncroft through a minefield of ex-colleagues and co-workers from the show as he tries to figure out what really lurks behind the unusual request of The Kestrel and uncover something far more sinister lurking in the shadows. And it’s not without it’s entertainment value, to be sure.
The cast who, in addition to Julian Barratt, include the lovely Essie Davis, Jessica Barden (who was so good in Season Three of Penny Dreadful, reviewed here soon), Russell Tovey and even Steve Coogan are all pretty good. In fact, they’re more than good, they’re brilliant, especially when it comes to finding the little quirks and traits to their characters which tell a lot about them in a very short time. With a special heads up to Simon Farnaby as Thorncroft’s former stuntman who has since, in the fictional 'real life', stood in for him in every other way. Farnaby being the one who kind of steals the show with a couple of laughs here and there but, well that’s the problem with this movie right there...
Mindhorn is engaging, filled with some marvellous characters and is extremely clever. The plot sucks you in and I, for one, found myself really wanting to get involved in it more. I’m sure it must have looked really good on paper and I bet the script reads much better than it’s presented here because... and this is a crunch thing for me... it may be a cleverly concocted comedy but it’s just, really, not very funny. And there’s not much worse than a comedy which works on every possible level apart from the one creative element it needs to succeed as a comedy. In this way, Mindhorn reminded me more of last years spectacular but, ultimately, unfunny Ghostbusters reboot (which I reviewed here ). It’s exactly the same problem because Ghostbusters, too, had some great actresses in it with a lot of good chemistry who you really wanted to like... if only they had remembered to write some actual jokes in it.
And, like the aforementioned Ghostbusters reboot, this is pretty much the only thing which doesn’t work about the movie... but it’s such a crucial element that it causes the whole thing to fail. And it’s such a shame because its a very well observed movie which takes aspects of the human condition and kind of holds them up to the audience and says... look how ridiculous we are as a species. And I just loved things like the various Mindhorn merchandise and packaging such as the toxic truth powder and the different action figures. The music by Keefus Ciancia and David Holmes is appropriate to the images and captures the spirit of both Thorncroft as he is now and the kind of music being written for the fictional TV shows that were being spoofed. There’s a brilliant shout out to the varied and notorious drunken interviews given to Oliver Reed on various chat shows of the 1970s and 80s which was quite cool and there are even some memorable cameos from Kenneth Branagh and Simon Callow where they are playing themselves. But, yeah, you know... it’s just not funny.
And that’s about all I can really say about Mindhorn, at the moment. I rolled the dice on whether I should go and see this one and, unfortunately, the numbers didn’t come up lucky for me. If you are looking for a laugh out loud comedy then I think you might be looking in the wrong place when it comes to this one. That being said, if you are interested in some ingenious acting and are studying the way in which you can pull a character together in broad strokes and make things come alive for an audience then, you know, you might want to take a look at this one before it goes. Not my cuppa tea though, to be sure, so I wouldn’t be recommending it to anyone I know... alas.