‘Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose’ a quirky delight

Why doesn’t Hollywood know what to do with the great English actor Simon Pegg? Bursting upon the international scene in 2004 as the zombie-killing lead in Edgar Wright’s raucous “Shaun of the Dead,” one of the earliest and best of the new wave of zombie films, Pegg has been relegated to second banana roles by the industry ever since. He has repeatedly played Benji Dunn in the increasingly tiresome and rote Tom Cruise “Mission Impossible” films; and Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in the J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” film series. Pegg also had a role in Abrams’ “The Force Awakens” (2015).

But the actor has had a scant number of starring roles, except in obscure efforts. In the frequently daffy, outlandishly-named “Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose,” which is based on a true story (!), Pegg plays the title role of “beardo” Dr. Nandor Fodor. According to his attractive, singleton live-in assistant Anne (Minnie Driver), Fodor is “the world’s foremost parapsychologist” as well as author of a scholarly tome. The truth is that Fodor, like the magician Harry Houdini (Edmund Kingsley) before him, is an expert at debunking people who claim to have had encounters with the supernatural.

“Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose,” which was written and directed by American Adam Sigal (“When the Starlight Ends”) begins lightheartedly with a short film “A Brief History of Animals That Could Talk.” Crows, we are told, can learn to laugh. The film’s starts out in London a few years before World War II. Everyone smokes, heavily. Fodor has Anne read letters from supplicants. Usually the letters are about dead relatives. But one tells the tale of a mongoose on the Isle of Man named Gef – rhymes with Jeff (voice of Neil Gaiman) – who can speak and is a bit of a clairvoyant to boot.

Nandor, who speaks in an American accent with hint of Eastern Europe (the real Fodor was American-British and of Hungarian descent), meets with an older colleague named Dr. Harry Price (Christopher Lloyd), another American. Price claims to have stayed with the family closest to Gef on a failed sheep farm. The head of that family is friendly businessman Mr. Irving (Tim Downie, “Paddington”). We also meet his expert pastry cook wife Mrs. Irving (Ruth Connell, TV’s “Supernatural”) and their almost adult daughter Voirrey (a delightfully mysterious Jessica Balmer).

Voirrey is of all things an accomplished ventriloquist. Hmm. Also on hand is a deep-voiced, amusingly skeptical “hand” named Errol (the charismatic Gary Beadle, “In the Heart of the Sea”). When Dr. Fodor and Anne arrive at the Irving farmhouse, they are informed that Gef likes speaking while out of sight behind the home’s paneling or around a corner rather than face to face.

The set-up of “Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose” is rather like that of Arthur Conan Doyle’s still-popular 1902 novel “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Fodor, an obvious Sherlock Holmes type, and his deflating Watson, Anne, travel to a remote area (Dartmoor in “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” Isle of Man in this tale) to investigate some extraordinary phenomenon.

Evoking “The Banshees of Inisherin,” another story set on an isle, “Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose” has a grieving drunk (Paul Kaye, “Game of Thrones”) haunting the local pub. Also like the Academy Award-winning ”Banshees,” “Nandor Fodor” is an examination of a remote community’s weird histories and strange inhabitants. An unseen Gef recites lines from William Butler Yeats and Lewis Carroll. I am not making any great claims for this film. But I enjoyed the cast and the isle eccentricity, and I’d love to see Pegg play the Holmesian Fandor (with Driver as his Watson) in a Netflix series. Anyone listening?

(“Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose” contains profanity, smoking and partial nudity)

“Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose”

Rated PG-13. On VOD Grade: B+

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