Being comfortable with looking like a complete and utter idiot is a key component to being a great comedian. Enjoying somebody else’s awful misfortune has been a staple of comedy since time immemorial, and a comedian’s ego can’t ever be given a look in.
Julian Barratt passes this test with flying colours in new Brit comedy Mindhorn. At various stages, Barratt wears a dreadful toupee, shows off a gigantic pot belly, puts on an awful Jamaican accent and – by the final act – has been duct taped into a skin tight outfit and had an afro glued onto his head, all so he can resemble an action figure of a character he used to play that never looked like that character in the first place.
These are just some of the many indignities heaped upon Barratt’s character, a washed up actor named Richard Thorncroft who used to play a TV detective named Mindhorn in the 80s, an old school sexist who used a robotic eye to literally ‘see the truth’ in between wooing the ladies. It sounds like the kind of abysmal TV pitch Alan Partridge would come up with (especially the fact that it’s based on the largely crime free Isle of Man), so it’s very appropriate that Steve Coogan pops up as a fellow Mindhorn actor whose character got his own hugely successful spin-off whilst a deluded Thorncroft’s career hit the skids.
The driving force of the story is that Russell Tovey’s unhinged criminal is so obsessed with Thorncroft’s decades old TV show that he tells police he’ll only talk to Mindhorn himself, meaning Thorncroft is drafted in to don his robotic eye again and help catch him. Which is all by the by – because really, all anybody needs to know about Mindhorn is whether it’s funny or not. Which it is. Very funny indeed.
Barratt is on superb form, playing a shell of a man with not a clue what’s going on, whilst co-writer Farnaby saves himself some choice lines as Thorncroft’s smug former stunt double. One brilliantly realised sequence set during a parade sees a disinterested commentator witness what he thinks is a staged fight featuring Mindhorn actors, when in fact it’s a real fight that sees Farnaby shot in the shoulder and hit by a car. To which the commentator deadpans, ‘Lovely stuff’.
There are all kinds of beautiful touches scattered throughout, including a mountain of cheap Mindhorn merchandise hoarded by Tovey’s super fan (rulers, annuals, potentially blinding ‘truth powder’), touches which demonstrate the amount of thought that’s gone into the world of Mindhorn. Yet for all that, there’s still nothing that quite matches the laughs from an early moment where Barratt falls into some bushes.
Quick, silly and very funny. That’s Mindhorn.