If years of watching films has taught me anything, it is that spoof films rarely occupy a middle ground – they are normally either wickedly funny, or painfully unfunny. Thankfully, Mindhorn, starring and co-written by Julian Barratt (co-creator of The Mighty Boosh) belongs firmly in the former.
Barratt plays Richard Thorncroft, a washed-up actor who was famous for playing Mindhorn on an 80s television show, a detective whose greatest asset was a robotic eye which could “see the truth”. After years in the abyss, in which he has advertised orthopaedic knee-high socks and girdles, he returns to the Isle of Man after a suspected serial killer, known as ‘The Kestrel’ (Russell Tovey), demands a conversation with the fictional detective, threatening to kill more people if his wishes aren’t met.
His undertaking of the case facilitates reunions with former co-star and old flame Patricia Deville (Essie Davis), ex-stuntman and Patricia’s boyfriend Clive Parnevik (Simon Farnaby and a blonde wig), and former sidekick Peter Easterman (Steve Coogan), whose character paved the way for a far-more successful spin-off show, Windjammer. The standout character is Geoffrey Moncrief (Richard McCabe), Thorncroft’s former “PR man”, a crass individual who now lives in a caravan with a blow-up doll for a secretary.
Following a superb opening which nails the 80s aesthetic of the mock television show, the film does initially struggle to find its feet, relying on a single gag being drawn out to create the optimum amount of cringe-factor. As any spoof should be, the film is at its best when lampooning the very genre its imitating, whether that be in poking fun at ‘idiosyncratic villain’ archetype (The Kestrel squawks his way around the Isle of Man), or parodying the role of the ‘new boyfriend’ (Farnaby plays Clive with a hilariously ridiculous Dutch accent).
There’s always a worry that comedies will start to take themselves more seriously as the narrative progresses, but director Sean Foley ramps up the silliness during a wonderfully surreal finale. It is in keeping with the rest of the film, and doesn’t overstay its welcome with the trim 89-minute run time. As the fictional detective’s catchphrase goes, “it’s truth time” – and when adhering to that saying, this film is a effortlessly quotable and one of the best British comedies in recent years.