When a filmmaker arrives on the scene with a clearly defined style, you want to see that style flourish and refine itself over time. You hope that director will settle into their own voice sooner or later, and not flail around trying to outdo themselves. Some manage this better than others. In the case of Jared Hess (director of Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre), studio filmmaking seems to have beaten the artistic instincts right out of him. Masterminds features some of the best comedians working today, and yet somehow it’s a tone deaf hackjob in desperate need of a unifying voice.
The film is based on a 1997 incident, in which a gang of imbeciles managed to steal $17 million from a Loomis Fargo vault, only to be caught months later after spending the money on a mansion, cars, a Velvet Elvis, and other extravagant nonsense.
Zach Galifianakis plays David Ghantt, a Loomis Fargo driver who gets sweet-talked into robbing his office’s vault by his former partner Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig). Kelly is put up to it herself by Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson), a huckster lowlife who got the idea from a news report about yet another Loomis Fargo robbery. Once David procures the money, Steve sends him to hide out in Mexico until things cool down. David soon realizes he’s been set up to take the fall, at which point Steve sends a wacko hitman with a knife fetish (Jason Sudeikis) to Mexico to take David out.
Aside from the third act — in which the laws of comedy filmmaking dictate there must be a happy ending — Masterminds follows the true story fairly closely. The details of the case are so odd that there was really no choice but to turn it into a comedy. Finding the humor in all the spaces in between proves too far out of their reach, though, as director Hess and his team repeatedly mistake tacky outfits and Southern accents as comedy in and of themselves. Galifianakis has the goofball charm and presence to pull this off, but too much of the cast seems to be waiting around for cues that never come.
Right from the start, Masterminds appears to have been butchered in the editing bay. In the very first scene, Kelly turns to David at a shooting range and gleefully suggests they steal a truckload of money. The film then doubles back and gives us an entire act of buildup where Kelly butters David up and convinces him to do it. The shooting range scene feels like it was plucked from the middle of all this exposition because somewhere along the way they realized they still didn’t have an opening scene. Other scenes feel either grossly truncated or just plain lost in the mix, like they could have been placed anywhere and the story would have made exactly as much sense.
Nowhere is this haphazard cut-and-paste approach more evident than in pretty much any scene featuring Kate McKinnon or Leslie Jones. McKinnon plays David’s deliriously monotone fiancee, and Jones the high-strung FBI agent on his trail. Most of their scenes generate some decent laughs, but neither character adds a single thing to the plot. Whenever the film starts to lose steam, it brings these two in like clockwork to fire things back up. Coming so closely behind Ghostbusters (which featured Jones, McKinnon and Kristen Wiig), my instinct tells me some late edits were made to salvage as many of their scenes as possible. If that’s the case, it was a valiant effort, but it bends an already malformed film even further out of shape.
This could have been saved had Hess flexed some authorial muscle over his production. He’s proven that he can execute deadpan weirdness, but aside from Kate McKinnon (who comes off more like she’s auditioning for a Napoleon Dynamite sequel), there’s nothing here you could stamp as being definably Jared Hess. Combining a lack of style, a choppy edit, and some flat out bad performances, Masterminds is not at all a film I would recommend. The waves of apathy coming off the screen are infectious.
Liked This? Share It!