As steaming services play a bigger and bigger role in the film and television industry, a lot of attention is going to their original content–but mainly streaming television shows. What about streaming movies? What hidden gems or washed up flops are hiding under the “___ Original” tab? Lets see what is awash in the stream.
Director: Sean Foley
Writers: Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby
So, onto another type of Netflix Original: The foreign film that didn’t get overseas distribution. Mindhorn was released in cinemas in the UK in May 2017–although IMDb gives the release date as 2016; it did play in Belfast Film Festival, so I guess that’s the discrepancy–and, a week later, came to the US via Netflix. Inexplicably produced by Ridley Scott, Mindhorn is the first feature from The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby. Mindhorn is a slight film, a one-joke premise that feels stretched out at an hour twenty-eight minutes, and segmented into three variations on same idea.
Mindhorn follows Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt), a past his prime actor that was the leading man of 80’s cop show “Mindhorn.” The television show “Mindhorn” was a cheesy high-concept show about a former spy, with a high-tech eye that allows him to see the truth, that is laying low from the military by fighting crime in the Isle of Man. At the height of “Mindhorns” success, Thorncroft dated co-star Patrice Deville (Essie Davis), while heaping contempt upon his stunt-double Clive Parnevik (Simon Farnaby) and co-star Peter Easterman (Steve Coogan), before publicly insulting the entire Isle of Man on a talk show while announcing he was quitting the show to go make it big in Hollywood. Nearly 30 years later, he has slunk back to London, scraping by a living doing commercials, while Easterman is on the 16th season of “Mindhorn” spinoff “Windjammer.” The Isle of Man is rocked by a police hunt for escaped mental patient and suspected killer Paul Melly (Russell Tovey), who insists he will only turn himself in if he can speak to Mindhorn, who he believes is a real person. Out of desperation, the police reach out to Thorncroft, to come to the Isle of Man and have an in-character phone call with Melly. Thorncroft, also desperate for a way to get some publicity to revitalise his stalled career, agrees.
From here, everything is fairly standard “pompous actor blowhard tries to push around nonplussed ‘real people’” as Thorncroft insists on being treating everything as a major movie event, while the police simply want to do their jobs and get Throncroft to the station on time to answer the phone. DS Elena Baines (Andrea Riseborough) simply ignores Throncrofts casual misogyny, and PC Green (Robin Morrissey) is quietly exasperated by Thorncroft’s theatrics. Chief Inspector Newsome (David Schofield) is scornful of the whole endeavor, barking at Thorncroft to get himself together, since they are looking for an insane murderer. Thorncroft is unconcerned with the killer, and is linked up with former manager Jeffrey Moncrieff (Richard McCabe) now lives out of an RV in the Isle of Man, try to milk the police hunt for maximum publicity, and plans to sneak out to hook up with ex-girlfriend Patricia. Thorncrofts callous pompusness towards murder is amusing, but he’s an archetype that’s been done countless times before, and there isn’t any twist or real specificity to the character to make him memorable.
Thorncroft messes up the police attempt to trace Melly’s call while trying to pose for a picture in front of a window, and is kidnapped by Melly after wandering outside the police station. Melly says he mailed proof that he’s being framed to Mindhorn, then the police show up and arrest him. This is the first thirty minutes. With the main plot (seemingly) wrapped up, Thorncroft wanders around the Isle of Man, running into old friends being forced to take stock of he’s done with his life. He learns that Patricia has moved on and married his former stunt-double, and is raising a teenage daughter, Jasmine (Jessica Barden) with him. In one of the film’s more inspired jokes, Richard learns that Jasmine isn’t Clive’s biological daughter, and wanders off in a confused daze before hearing Clive specify that Jasmine is Peter Easterman’s daughter. Clive and Richard’s back and forths are a highlight, Clive attempting to play the dependable husband while taking joy in needling Richard with how their fortunes have reversed. However, this dynamic is repeated when Richard meets with Peter to discuss the DVD release for “Mindhorn.” Even by 2016, they would be discussing streaming rights instead of a DVD release, but whatever. While Clive delighted in making an effort to insult and humiliate Richard, Peter doesn’t seem to have thought about Richard at all, a much bigger blow. “Windjammer” has totally surpassed “Mindhorn” by any metric, and Peter has the career Richard dreams he still has. While the DVD rights are secured, the meeting descends into a fight at country club, and a dejected Richard goes on a drug-fueled bender with Jeffrey.
As far as Netflix originals about actors from decades old very famous television shows confronting their past and inner-demons go, this section isn’t Bojack Horseman. Not that Bojacks level of darkness would necessarily work in a hour and a half movie, but some sort of insight would have been nice. The dramatics of the plot are perfunctory, while the jokes are amusing but don’t really rise above that. Nothing insulting or offensively bad, but nothing memorable either.
As Richard prepares the leave the Isle of Man, he goes over some “Mindhorn” fan mail, and finds that Melly really did send a VHS tape that shows that the real killer is the Mayor (Nicholas Farrell). Melly also manages to escape from police custody again. After Jeffrey swipes the tape from Richard, with the intent to blackmail the Mayor, Richard and Melly team up to get the tape back and prove Melly’s innocence. The film essentially morphs into a less ironic Hot Fuzz action comedy at this point, as the Mayor uses a conspiracy of assassins to kill whoever attempts to expose his crime. One of the politely exasperated cops from the beginning of the film is now a motorcycle riding assassin, using a silencer pistol to kill the Mayor’s enemies. A character says that Richard is acting like he’s in an episode of “Mindhorn,” and Melly even glues him into a “Mindhorn” costume at one point, but nothing about the plotting really resembles an 80’s cop show, aside from the general idea of criminals shooting people. Again, the film goes through the premise ably, but not exceptionally.
Mindhorn has a solid premise, but has few ideas on what to do with it. There are jokes about Richard wearing a toupee, then later the Mayor also wears a toupee, in case the full comedic potential of “toupee” hasn’t been fully plumed. And while Jasmine being Peters daughter is a good joke, it also underlines how Peter and Clive could have easily been combined into a single character. The way the plot is segmented doesn’t do the story any favors, highlighting how they’re flailing with a thin premise, trying to find something to do with it. Richard running into his old friends while kidnapped by Melly/trying to find the evidence that clears Melly would be a more interesting film than sectioning the two plotlines off. It’s hard to grade this film on the Pass/Fail review model I’ve arbirtrally selected for this column, because it’s not necessarily a bad film–if your a Julian Barratt completest, go for it. There are worse ways to spend an hour and half, but there are also far better ways.
Hidden Gem or Washed Up Flop? Washed up gem? Let’s go with flop, washed up flop