Julian Barratt’s ridiculous – and ridiculously funny – film about the misadventures of a washed-up 80s TV star is a delight, while The Journey, about a key moment in the Northern Ireland peace process, fails its charismatic leads
Mindhorn (15) ****
Whisky Galore! (PG) **
The Journey (12A) **
Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (PG) ****
A Dog’s Purpose (PG) **
Co-written by and starring Julian Barratt, Mindhorn sees the former Mighty Boosh star make an effortless bid for big screen stardom with a rich comedy creation that puts a distinctively British spin on the monster that is minor celebrity. The title is the name of the naff British super cop Barratt’s fading actor, the wonderfully monikered Richard Longcroft, once played in a hit TV show in the 1980s. Pitched somewhere between The Professionals, The Bionic Man and Bergerac (it was set on the Isle of Man), the show brought Longcroft a degree of fame but no humility – a bad combination that saw him burn all his bridges before heading off to America in a failed bid to break Hollywood. All of which is hilariously sketched out in the opening minutes, something that makes his subsequent fall all the more tragic when we catch up with him as a middle-aged, overweight, hairpiece-sporting actor who can’t even hold down a gig advertising orthopedic socks. Though this also makes the character very much of a piece with the likes of Alan Partridge – a connection made more explicit by Steve Coogan’s co-starring role as Longcroft’s acting nemesis – Mindhorn distinguishes itself with a high-concept, Galaxy Quest-style premise that sees Longcroft returning to the Isle of Man to help the local police draw out a delusional killer who thinks Mindhorn is real. As Longcroft attempts to exploit the PR opportunities of his new role to relaunch his career, the subsequent gag rate is ridiculously high – with an emphasis on ridiculous – but Barratt also knows how to mine pathos from the character without getting all sentimental, which helps debut feature director Sean Foley (and co-writer and co-star Simon Farnaby – cast here as Mindhorn’s former stunt double) keep the resulting action sharp and relentlessly funny.
Almost a year after closing last year’s dreary Edinburgh International Film Festival, the remake of Whisky Galore! arrives in Scottish cinemas with relatively little fanfare. That’s hardly surprising. It’s a pretty pointless retread, gentle to the point of being soporific, and a waste of a wonderful cast. Revolving around the efforts of a group of wily Scottish islanders to liberate crates of whisky from a shipwrecked trawler during a wartime drought, the 1949 original – directed by Alexander Mackendrick and based on the novel by Compton Mackenzie – has become a fascinating snapshot of the period, something that elevates its appeal beyond simple nostalgia. That’s something that could have liberated this Eddie Izzard-starring remake; but instead it feels like a parody of its inspiration. Director Gillies MacKinnon may have resisted the urge to turn it into a straight-up caper film, but whatever merits veteran Scottish screenwriter Peter McDougall’s script might have had on the page it has become wearisome and whimsical on screen, dulled by characters grappling with low-stakes personal dilemmas that seem hopelessly old-fashioned when viewed from a contemporary perspective.
Proving that Peter Morgan’s ability to dramatise famous yin-yang relationships with spell-everything-out accessibility is harder to do than it looks, The Journey takes a crucial moment in the Northern Ireland peace process negotiations and turns it into a speculative odd-couple road movie. The odd couple in question are Democratic Union Party leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, whose historic enmity thawed enough for Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern to broker the 2006 St Andrews Agreement that eventually led to the formation of the Northern Ireland Executive. As imagined by director Nick Hamm and screenwriter Colin Bateman, that thaw was the result of a car journey undertaken by both men from St Andrews to Edinburgh Airport – a contrived dramatic device that detracts from Timothy Spall’s performance as Paisley and Colm Meaney’s performance as McGuinness by tricking the story out with a secret MI5 surveillance subplot that makes no sense given the film has, by this point, already suggested that McGuinness took any and all precautions to prevent his private conversations being overheard.
A better executed film about a titanic clash of personalities is to be found in the documentary Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, which chronicles activist and author Jane Jacobs’s determination to combat city planner Robert Moses. His efforts to transform post-war New York into a sterile, modernist city by tearing down the tenement slums and displacing their inhabitants to housing projects ultimately caused more problems than it solved, which is a familiar story the world over, but seeing it enacted within such an iconic city reinforces how racially and culturally insensitive many of these developments have historically been.
A Dog’s Purpose opens with a cute puppy (voiced by Frozen star Josh Gad) running around and enjoying his freedom. Within minutes, however, he’s been rounded up by a dogcatcher and killed. At which point you might wonder what kind of sick horror movie you’ve mistakenly taken your kids to see. Actually, though, this is merely the bizarre new family film from cinematic schmaltz peddler Lasse Hallström, who seems to have taken the title of his breakthrough film, My Life as a Dog, and put a literal spin on it with a tale of canine existential angst in which a dog is reincarnated multiple times until he figures out how to finally bring happiness to the owner who loved him the most. Call it Ground Dog Day. Just don’t call it good.