Of all the noteworthy work that actor Simon Pegg has done during his career, Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose, written and directed by Adam Sigal, is unlikely to be recognised as one of his greatest films. However, it may be one of his oddest, albeit not in the way one might expect. Even with an interesting title that suggests far more craziness, it is an oddly straight-faced period piece with no dominating vision on a technical or thematic level.
Instead, it feels like it was thrown together on the spur of the moment, lacking the whimsy or awe required to pull it off. The ensemble is amusing enough, and the rural setting provides an appropriate background for the unusual plot to unfold. It just never connects the dots, showing that the most paranormal force haunting the whole thing is the ghost of a better picture.
This all starts with the titular Dr. Nandor Fodor (Pegg), who is said to be the world’s finest parapsychologist (meaning he investigates otherworldly phenomena) in the 1930s. He is sceptical of most instances that come his way until something fresh complicates matters. We are quickly pushed into a specific inquiry that is one of the most unusual ones he has ever had to take on, drawing fairly loosely on the real historical figure’s work, which is more intriguing to read up on than this irregular interpretation of it. It is the story of Gef, a talking Mongoose who lives in a secluded section of the Isle of Main.
The animal is thought by locals to have information that he will impart with them, and is humorously voiced by Neil Gaiman, one of the more innovative creative decisions in the mainly empty experience. Dr. Fodor and his ever-patient assistant Anne, played by Minnie Driver, then set out to discover what is going on in this little corner of the universe. The adventure they go on in search of information, while playfully funny, is ultimately forgettable, without the acquired appeal required to compensate for its chronic lack of content.
It all feels like a fool’s errand, much like the inquiry Dr. Fodor is doing. Everything it appears to be delving further into, whether in its funny tone or thematic themes surrounding faith, never comes to life with enough zeal to leave an impression. While quite different in virtually every way, the picture that seemed to be ringing about while I was watching this one was last year’s The Wonder, starring Florence Pugh, in which she led what was frequently a very magnificent examination into profound and fundamental concerns about believing itself.
Despite the fact that the historical period, overall tone, and circumstances of its narrative are drastically different, Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose appear to be a satire of that. In a more abstract way, that is how it may seem. In terms of execution, it is just half-heartedly interested in leaning into gags and makes no complete attempt at creative deconstructions of paranormal cinema cliches.
The more it goes on, the more it pours on a genuine but surface sappiness that is never given the attention it needs to take root. It’s a picture that you want to cheer for, but it doesn’t provide you anything to do so. While there are many films that can survive on largely decent feelings, this is not one of them. It is never interesting or compelling enough to elevate the haphazard tale to the level of a unified humorous vision.
Even in the first scene, where we get a slew of exposition via flashback narration from Dr. Harry Price, another investigator who looked into the case, there is a sense that it has hit a limit in terms of what it might achieve with this subject. Though it’s good that this is done by Christopher Lloyd, whose brief cameos bookend the picture, the material with which he and the rest of the ensemble are working is too transitory.
One may argue that this is the goal and that if you look closely, you can find a more introspective piece of narrative wrapped up in this mostly void set of events. While it’s an intriguing read, it’s all stuck in a theoretical vision of what the film may have been rather than the one we got. For all the ways it may extend into unexpected locations in an attempt to undermine where we believe it is heading, none of them are very compelling.
The biggest surprise comes in the last seconds when it makes one more desperate attempt for more through a painfully hurried monologue and sequence of scenes. As it pounds home its point, it feels more like a shrug than the show-stopping ending it appears to be. It never cuts deeper than the skin, since we only see the bare bones of a film rather than one with true flesh and blood that moves. For all the ways the film is about belief and accepting the ambiguity of what we don’t know about the world, it has no clue how to encourage you to believe in any of it.