FILM & TV

Review | 'MINDHORN' is the low-key comedy of the summer

NETFLIX | New, classic British comedy earns its laughs with brilliant acting

If you might enjoy watching David Brent solve crimes as a detective, you'll love Mindhorn.

Less than a year after its premiere at the London Film Festival, Mindhorn has arrived on Netflix in the U.K. and U.S. Directed by Sean Foley and written by stars Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby, the movie has the quick wit and acting chops to pull off its scattered mystery plot and become an under-the-radar hit.

It was two summers ago that Netflix dropped Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, the hysterical prequel series to the classic movie of the same name. Mindhorn has the same kind of absurd, self-aware humor that makes it a perfect movie to carry the anti-blockbuster summer season.

"This," Detective Mindhorn (Julian Barratt) says, pointing to his blank face, "is a map of human emotion." Fictional TV Detective Mindhorn is well into a career crisis, struggling to find auditions and doing embarrassing commercials, when the police call on him for help with a real-life case. The movie could have been a sequel to Birdman where Michael Keaton actually becomes a crime fighter.

Julian Barratt as Richard Thorncroft as Mindhorn. (YouTube)

Barratt's Detective Mindhorn is like a blend of the Pink Panther and David Brent: blundering, offensive, horribly unaware of his own idiocy. Even in the moments where his self-admiration lags and he admits his faults, he doesn't quite redeem the ignorance that puts him in more and more ridiculous situations.

Mindhorn takes place in British comedy's favorite place: cringe humor, where the idiot-hero is the star and target of the jokes. Like The Office, Detective Mindhorn's own hopelessness is the centerpiece of the movie's jokes. But the movie's success lies in its entire cast, whose combined personalities let it utilize so many forms of comedy.

There are physical jokes with wigs and makeup, stunts and fights, mistaken identities, confused families, incompetency in the good guys and the bad guys, retro humor, musical jokes and plenty of one-liners. When Deville asks Thorncroft to sit down in his makeshift costume, he screams, "I can't sit down—I'm glued in!"

The fictional Mindhorn had even recorded a retro-terrible, hit song at the peak of his fame that inevitably comes back to haunt him: "You Can't Handcuff the Wind," available on iTunes. Mindhorn's antics and his unique skills in the Brazilian martial art, Capoeira, make for funny moments but the movie's success comes ultimately from its actors.

Mindhorn's plot might be a detective thriller on the surface, but underneath it's a bunch of great comedy actors playing terrible people being terrible to each other. While Mindhorn is painfully ignorant, his nemesis, Clive Parnevik (Simon Farnaby) is a cocky idiot. Russell Tovey plays the adorably deranged Paul Melly, Patricia Deville plays Thorncroft's unfortunate ex and Kenneth Branagh plays himself. Even ensemble characters have shining moments. The parade announcer's half-hearted narration of the near-climax fight is the best part of that scene.

Mindhorn and Melly. (YouTube)

Mindhorn has a few moments of near-redemption and emotional reality. His argument with his desperate agent, Geoff, is an intense revelation for both of them. Then, in a weird twist, all of the absurdity of the movie's world of incompetence suddenly comes together in the climax with real implications for all of the characters. After almost the whole film, in which the idiocy is mostly for jokes, Mindhorn's capoeira training means the difference between life and death. And after watching him fail spectacularly for ninety percent of the movie, his odds aren't great.

Watch Mindhorn on Netflix. Follow the movie on Twitter.


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Humor

Watch Ricky Gervais make Jimmy Fallon uncomfortable many times on his own show

The Tonight Show becomes much more fun when Jimmy loses all control of his guest

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Comedian and actor Ricky Gervais stopped into The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon last night to promote his newest movie, David Brent: Life on the Road. The film resurrects Gervais's character from The Office, boss David Brent, who finally decides to pursue his dream of touring with a rock band. Besides the February 10th release date, you won't learn much more about the movie from Jimmy Fallon's interview with Gervais. That's because 1) Gervais is a master at awkward comedy and 2) Jimmy Fallon's strength isn't interviewing guests. The second reason can't hurt his show—viewers are tuning in for the skits and music—but the first reason, combined with the second, make this interview a classic example of Gervais's genius.

In less than eight minutes Gervais turns this one of his many promotion stops into a stand-up routine.

"You look great, by the way," Fallon says about two sentences into the interview. And from there, Gervais takes over. "I look great? Is that sarcasm?" He jokes about seeing through the fake compliments a talk show host is required to give the guest. "You see, this is the thing with you, innit, it's a talk show, 'Oh, you look great,' even though—look at me!" The crowd, too, is immediately on his side, laughing over Fallon's pretend attempts to recenter the conversation.

To be clear, Fallon's encouraging all this. He's interviewed Ricky Gervais many times and all talk-show hosts know what to expect. He's not genuinely trying to recapture his interview. In a way, he's still in control by the way he subtly eggs Gervais on. But Gervais, in his signature way, moves closer and closer to the inappropriate (for late-night TV) and offensive.

The other part of Gervais's style is that he performs as if he's genuinely passionate about what he's saying, when all the passion is leading directly to a punch line: "You see those guys on documentaries, and they're, like, 700 pounds, and I'm thinking, when they got to 300 pounds, didn't they go, 'Oh, this is a bit… much,' d'you know what I mean?" The crowd erupts but he continues because he's going even farther than anyone thinks.

That's when Fallon starts to look genuinely lost, as if the producer is starting to sound urgent in his ear: "Okay, get back to the movie, now." And Gervais knows what's happening; he can probably see the guy behind the cameras waving his hands and pointing to the cue cards. That's exactly what he wants, because it creates a feeling of unpredictability and hilarious tension, even on a show that viewers know has been taped and edited. So he starts another story, "So there's this woman in England, right?" And Fallon sits back in his chair to prepare himself.

In the second clip, the interview moves, for a few seconds, to the movie. The posters for his movie and Sausage Party line up a whole series of body part jokes that have Fallon cringing over and over. Gervais, clearly enjoying the tension he's built, makes an expert move at the 1:30 mark, by flipping the joke around on Jimmy, who simply cannot decide how to react. Finally, Gervais is the one to pull the conversation back to his movie and let Fallon introduce the clip. The whole segment is an incredible class on cringe-comedy by one of the experts. What else would you expect from David Brent?