Having spend a long time in the wilderness, Thorncroft is lured back into the limelight to reprise his role as the bionic-eyed investigator (which allows him to literally ‘see’ the truth). His case – to capture a criminal who is terrorising the Isle of Man with a spate of killings.
The setting lends itself to the offbeat sense of humour that permeates the script, whether it’s the bizarre administrative buildings, the 1970’s tawdry hotels or the windswept, deserted beaches. It’s no surprise that the Isle of Man is heavily subsidising film production on its shores.
The cast is full of familiar faces from British comedy from the last twenty years, each injecting the script with their own razor sharp wit and comic delivery. Barratt more than holds his own as a leading man whose range of talent goes above and beyond the knowing misanthrope he touted in the role he was most known for in The Mighty Boosh. His delight in the role is even evident in the slightest of gestures; this is an actor revelling being in front of the camera.
There’s no doubt there is a high degree of tragicomedy to Barratt’s Thorncroft, think Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy, The Office’s David Brent and the eponymous Alan Partridge. Thorncroft’s descent into debauchery and temporary madness (reminiscent of Partridge’s Toblerone moment) and subsequent salvation is at once familiar and unique.
It could be argued that the film’s structure is rather formulaic and there is little in terms of twists and turns, but it can be forgiven with actors on such fine form who counterbalance and add depth to a reductive, catch the crook plot. In places it reminded me of Alpha Papa too much – but maybe British cinema is creating a niche for itself in oddball crime comedy capers.
The film also raises some interesting questions about masculinity and celebrity. Thorncroft is clearly a man for whom thirty years have passed in relative obscurity, but he has also not changed or grown as time has passed by. He still sees himself as the TV hero (who his agent is desperately trying to rid of) and still thinks that the alpha male, macho tough guy should be the skin men should live in. It’s only when we see him pining for his ex that a softer, more sensitive Thorncroft is revealed. There is a bit of verbal sparring with his former stuntman too, who is played to perfection by Simon Parnaby. Conflict is often the engine of both comedy and drama, but when it is so wonderfully played out by two eccentrics, it really is a joy to watch.
This film has plenty for fans of The Mighty Boosh to sink their teeth in to, and Barratt delivers a sterling performance as the hapless Thorncroft, stirred into heroism by lost love. The Isle of Man is a stunning, if strange backdrop to one of 2017’s comedy highlights.
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