Back in the days when there were but three (!) channels, telly watchers loved nothing more than curling up on the sofa to watch such homegrown detective shows as Bergerac, Shoestring and Hazell. Mindhorn, in which a former MI5 operative equipped with a robotic eyepatch that enables him to genuinely “see the truth” becomes a plain-clothes crime-solver on the Isle of Man, could have quite easily sat among their comfortingly corny ranks.
Bruce Mindhorn, of course, is merely a concoction of Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby, the Mighty Boosh cast members behind this hilarious throwback to the telly of yesteryear. But it’s a testament to their comedic vision that you can imagine their film spawning a retrofitted makeover, not least given the Isle of Man’s current status as a go-to location for cost-conscious movie shoots.
For now, we’ll have to content ourselves with Mindhorn’s opening salvo: a scratchy behind-the-scenes ‘Making Of’ that establishes actor Richard Thorncroft (Barratt), the show’s moustachioed leading man, as a preening paragon of cocksure ’80s sexism.
Cut to the present, and we see a very different Thorncroft: a debauched has-been who, having petulantly walked away from his signature role, has spent the last quarter-century in cash-strapped obscurity, now making a living promoting orthopaedic socks (a gig he’s about to lose to John Nettles).
After botching up an audition for Kenneth Branagh (gamely contributing a cameo as a favour to director Sean Foley), an invitation to negotiate – in character – with a deranged murder suspect (Russell Tovey) offers him a belated shot at redemption. No sooner has he set foot back on Manx soil, alas, than Thorncroft finds himself assailed by fresh humiliations, not to mention a former co-star slash girlfriend (Essie Davis) who’s now married to his erstwhile stunt double (Farnaby, shporting a densh Dutch akshent).
Casting Steve Coogan as another ex-colleague of Thorncroft’s (who’s since found fame through a Lewis-style spin-off) highlights Mindhorn’s debt to Alan Partridge, another blinkered egotist with delusions of competence. Barratt and Farnaby are also far more assured writing male characters than female ones, with both Davis and Andrea Riseborough (phoning it in as an Isle of Man policewoman) having little to do but look on dumbfounded.
Yet Foley’s comedy still heaves with belly laughs, notably in an inspired third act in which Barratt’s character becomes literally incapable of separating himself from his smallscreen alter ego. Anybody who liked Life on the Road, meanwhile, is certain to appreciate ‘You Can’t Handcuff the Wind’, Thorncroft’s doomed stab at musical stardom.