Film Review: Masterminds

Zach Galifianakis and Kristen Wiig’s absurd lead turns help carry this uneven but amusing bank-robbery comedy.
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If the fundamental aim of comedy is to make one laugh, then Masterminds is a success, regardless of the fact that, from a filmmaking standpoint, it’s a relatively slapdash affair. Another tale from director Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre) involving trailer-park-grade oddballs wearing weird clothes, sporting weirder haircuts, and speaking in all sorts of crazy-weird ways, this long-delayed film—originally intended for a summer 2015 release before Relativity Media spiraled into financial crisis—ignores character detail and zips past seemingly crucial plot points with almost spastic speed. Yet it’s also legitimately funny, generating consistent humor from its game-for-anything leads’ straight-faced absurdity. In other words, it gets its primary job done.

While Hess has clearly embellished his source material for maximum ridiculousness, Masterminds is based on a historic real-life cash robbery perpetrated in 1997 by North Carolina armored-car driver David Scott Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis), here imagined by the star as a bizarro-world kook with long, flowing helmet-hair locks (including bangs) and a beard to accentuate that ’do’s strangeness. Though no overt mention is made of the time period, the characters’ attire and use of beepers and pay phones is definitively ’90s. Regardless of the decade, however, David is a pitiable sort of outcast, stuck in a loveless engagement to Jandice (Kate McKinnon)—who takes the world’s weirdest wedding pictures with her spouse-to-be, and later confesses that she shacked up with him because, unlike her deceased former boyfriend, “that one’s dead, this one’s alive”—and smitten with his sexy blonde co-worker Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig).

Motivated by her friend Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson), Kelly exploits David’s crush in order to convince him to rob their employer Loomis Fargo—a vault heist that, despite his considerable idiocy, he pulls off, netting $17 million in cash. That attracts the attention of FBI agent Scanlon (Leslie Jones), and compels David, on Steve’s advice, to bolt to Mexico with $20,000, all on the promise that Kelly will soon join him there with the remainder of their stolen loot. From that premise, Hess spins a ludicrous tale of daft disguises, wild spending sprees, and a pencil-mustached hitman (Jason Sudeikis) who loves to kill with his bare hands. Does it all make logical sense? No. But it rarely matters, given that Masterminds regularly serves up amusing inanity, as when Kelly convinces David to build up his spider-related immunity (for his south-of-the-border stay) by chomping on an enormous tarantula—and for his efforts, he get a mouth full of bursting bug goo.

A squandered Jones is relegated to being the butt of a few jokes about her height and mannishness, McKinnon is given little to do but smile and pose in a creepily awkward manner, and Wilson isn’t blessed with a single humorous line. Yet Galifianakis and Wiig carry Masterminds, their go-for-broke performances—full of non-sequiturs like Wiig getting off the phone with “I gotta go wash my pantyhose with my mouth”—infusing the action with lovably pathetic silliness. As idiots who find a genuine connection amidst madcap trouble of their own making, the stars indulge in out-there ludicrousness without ever losing sight of their goofy characters’ yearning for companionship, respect and a small slice of the American Dream. Like the film itself, they’re sloppy, moronic and more than slightly deranged—and a frequent riot.

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