In theaters on September 1st, ‘Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose‘ is a strange beast in itself, even considering the communicative creature at its core. It’s one of those oddities that you almost wonder how it got funding, so obscure and specific is its story. But we’re glad that it shows how all types of movies can make their way to the screen.
Starring Simon Pegg, Minnie Driver, Christopher Lloyd and more, it’s a British-set story that is likely unfamiliar to American audiences unless you happen to have an interest in the paranormal. Those from the UK, meanwhile, might recognize the story of Gef as one that frequented the pages of ‘The Fortean Times’, a monthly publication that focuses on unexplained phenomena.
What’s the story of ‘Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose’?
The movie is based on a (possibly) true tale set in 1935 London and the Isle of Man.
When famed paranormal psychologist Dr. Nandor Fodor (Pegg) investigates a family’s claims of a talking animal –– a mongoose named Gef –– he uncovers a mysterious web of hidden motives. Soon, everyone becomes a suspect in Dr. Fodor’s relentless pursuit of the truth.
Who else is in ‘Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose’?
Does ‘Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose’ work?
Though it has an American writer/director (Adam Sigal, previously behind such movies as ‘Chariot’ and ‘Stakeout’, ‘Nandor Fodor’ (I’m not going to write the whole title out all the time, lest this review’s word count balloon to 5,000 words) feels more like something that would crop up on BBC television in the UK of a Sunday evening.
The movie is a small-scale, low-key one, albeit with a weirder subject matter than other such projects, usually having to do with other historical periods or kitchen sink melodrama. ‘Nandor Fodor’, though, is more akin to an Agatha Christie mystery, just one without a murder.
We have Simon Pegg as Fandor, who at the time the movie takes place, was largely shunned by the spiritualist community he had once been part of due to him taking on more of a skeptical bent to his investigations into the supernatural.
Pegg gives a workmanlike performance as the main character, with a mostly convincing accent and a manner that only occasionally dips into his usual acting bag of tricks. He plays especially well off of Minnie Driver’s Anne, his dedicated assistant, who suffers through Fodor’s changeable moods.
Driver, for her part, is funny and charming, making Anne an appealing counterpoint to Fodor’s moods and someone more willing to embrace the potential that Gef could really be an “earthbound spirit” as the creature has claimed.
It’s stranger to hear Gaiman –– more usually known as an acclaimed author of fantasy and science fiction –– voicing the mongoose, as he opts to put on a different voice, and performs to a greater degree than the mellifluous narrator voice he’s employed for projects such as the audiobooks of his work.
Also in the positive column, though his role is much smaller, is Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Harry Price, a colleague and friend of Nandor’s who first alerts him to the family’s claims that Gef exists.
As a whole, the movie has more on its mind than a simple creature feature, looking to explore concepts of perception and life after death under the guise of a supernatural mystery (which admittedly rarely gets all that supernatural).
Any problems with the movie?
What lets ‘Nandor Fodor’ down is the tone that it chooses to use, and the many narrative side alleyways that it chooses to wander down even before the main story kicks in. Fodor doesn’t arrive at the Irving family farm until around 30 minutes into the movie, which for a 96-minute tale is a little punishing.
And though there is entertainment value to be found in Pegg and Lloyd discussing the history of Houdini and others, it rarely feels relevant to the main story and starts to seem more like filler than necessary color for the characters.
The Irving family, meanwhile, barely register, the focus somewhat naturally on Pegg, Driver and to a lesser degree, Gary Beadle as Errol, the farmhand who helps out around the property and has his own thoughts on whether Gef is real. The only other main character (besides Lloyd’s) is ‘Game of Thrones’ Paul Kaye as Maurice, the local barfly/owner, who is happy to drown his sorrows and tell his sad stories to anyone who will listen. He’s largely played for sozzled laughs, at least until he’s drawn more into the main plot.
A further sticking point is quite how quirky everything is, overplayed to a pantomime degree that becomes more annoying than it is engaging. Credit to the filmmakers for finding a tone and sticking to it, but the overtly mannered work from most of the cast (excepting Driver, who finds a more realistic gear and sticks to it) means that it becomes oppressively odd.
Likely to appeal to a relatively niche audience, ‘Nandor Fodor’ will entertain those who enjoy paranormal mysteries yet seems certain to frustrate with its meandering story and overly quirky performances.
Though it refreshingly doesn’t commit to a judgement as to whether the Gef story was real or not (again, perception at play), it’s a confounding and ultimately vaguely disappointing poke into a fascinating historical, supernatural mystery. You’re probably better off seeking out the many accounts of the talking mongoose that litter the internet or appear in magazines.
‘Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose’ receives 6.5 out of 10 stars.
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