THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Masterminds is based on a true story, but it doesn't take long to realize that the movie is going to take a lot of liberties with the source material. The basis for this comedy is one of the biggest bank heists in American history, in which $17 million was stolen. That's certainly compelling fodder for a movie, and some of the foibles of the real-life participants are ripe for comedic treatment. However, as directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite), Masterminds never quite figures out the tone to take in order to wring the most laughs possible from this bizarre tale.
Zach Galifianakis plays David Ghantt, a driver for the Loomis Fargo armored car company. He's engaged to Jandice (Kate McKinnon), but not-so-secretly in love with his coworker, Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig). After Kelly is fired, her boyfriend, Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson), comes up with the idea that they should rob her former employer. The key to this plan is having her use David's amorous feelings against him – something that proves quite easy. What follows is a farcical series of events in which David swipes the money and Steve tries to cut him out of his share, only to incur his patsy's wrath. Eventually, a hitman (Jason Sudeikis) is called in to take David out.
The best thing Masterminds has going for it is the cast. To a degree, they're all forced to play stereotypical Southern rubes, but they manage to get some mileage from that cliché anyway. Galifianakis is especially funny as the dim-witted David, who is so blinded by lust that he fails to see that he's being taken advantage of. One scene, in which he goes through airport security in a ridiculous disguise Kelly has put together for him, is hilarious because the actor puts just enough of his own peculiar spin on what, in other hands, would have been a tired gag. Kristen Wiig is also funny as the woman who embraces her inner sexpot to manipulate David, while Owen Wilson hits just the right note of “guy who's not as smart as he thinks” in portraying Steve. These stars all generate solid chuckles, as do McKinnon, Sudeikis, and Leslie Jones (as an FBI agent), although those latter three sometimes feel as though they're coming in from another movie.
Jared Hess is a filmmaker who enjoys reveling in eccentric oddballs, oftentimes to the detriment of plot. That's the basic problem with Masterminds. The tone fluctuates, which undermines the inherent interest of the story. There are some darkly comic moments, but they don't go far enough to really make for a good dark comedy. Other scenes are very broad, but they rarely go over-the-top enough to make for a good broad comedy. As such, the movie fumbles around, trying to settle on what kind of picture it wants to be. In the end, it never travels down either road all the way, leading to something that feels annoyingly disjointed and scattershot at times. Given that it's based on a true story, the dark route – or at least a more cynical one – probably would have been most effective.
Masterminds has good performances and a few genuinely funny bits, but it ultimately doesn't do justice to the true events that inspired it. This is the kind of not great/not terrible picture that will work better on a casual home viewing than as a big screen experience.
( 1/2 out of four)
Masterminds is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, some language and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.
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