‘Masterminds’ Review: A Painfully Dense Comedy That Squanders a Talented Cast
Not even a batch of SNL alums could save this insufferable comedy from director Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre) and writers Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer, and Emily Spivey. It’s based on the true story of the 1997 Loomis Fargo bank robbery in Charlotte, North Carolina, the second-largest cash heist in the U.S. at the time. The real story is wild enough on it’s own: David Scott Ghantt worked at Loomis as a vault supervisor, and when his former co-worker and side girlfriend Kelly Campbell suggested they pull off a bank heist, the two teamed up with Campbell’s high school friend, Steve Chambers, to steal $17.3 million. But when Ghantt escaped to Mexico after the heist to lay low, Chambers sent a hitman after him.
That’s one heck of a true crime story to make a movie about, but Hess and his team of screenwriters completely butcher any of its comedic potential. The plot sticks close to the real story while making a mockery out of everyone involved, turning the characters into stereotypes of small town rubes. Galifianakis is David Ghantt, once again doing his usual schtick of an effeminate loser without a lick of common sense. Similar to his roles in The Hangover, Due Date, and The Campaign, Galifianakis’ character conflates flamboyance with inanity and weakness. His talents shine best when he plays relatively mellow guys with loose screws (Birdman, Up In the Air) or as a deadpan humorist on Between Two Ferns. Over-the-top Galifianakis is obnoxious.
In Masterminds David’s disguises are full of cultural appropriation that are too stupid to be offensive. The first finds him in sweatpants with a giant butt after packing his underwear full of cash, wearing yellow cat eye contacts and a blonde wig that cries Southern-white-guy-in-Nicki-Minaj drag. Later he dresses up as a Mexican vaquero with a bushel of bananas and a piñata as he speaks incorrect Spanish to the locals. Not funny. You know what else isn’t funny? Watching Galifianakis shart in a pool. Or watching Galifianakis’ butt get farted on and calling it a “fart transplant.” Or watching Galifianakis shoot a bullet between his butt cheeks. Even if you enjoy potty humor, these jokes come from the bottom of the sewer.
Owen Wilson and Sudeikis are slightly more tolerable. Wilson plays Chambers as a brainless low-rent con man who blows the stolen cash on a new BMW, matching red-white-and-blue windbreakers with his wife, and rolling around in piles of cash. Sudeikis tries his hardest to parody spy movies as a charming, lanky hitman with a bad mustache, obviously the last guy you’d expect to kill you. But neither gets a single memorable moment.
You’d think the movie could be salvaged by Wiig, Jones, and McKinnon, three quarters of the Ghostbusters gang whose goofy humor and charisma made Paul Feig’s movie so delightful. Somehow, their comedic talent is tossed into a garbage can, lit on fire, and kicked into a landfill. Wiig plays Kelly, her most basic and normal comedic character to date – and while she’s played “average” women before, she always finds opportunities to wink at their awkward quirks. In Masterminds, Wiig is a shell of a character who’s used more as a sexual object and plot device than someone adding personality to the film. Jones plays FBI Agent Scanlon who does nothing but bark in other characters’ faces. That snappy attitude is a part of Jones’ signature gimmick, but she isn’t given any good dialogue to use it on.
And then there’s McKinnon as David’s obsessive fiancée Kelly. She leads two of the movie’s decent moments. In an awkward couples photo shoot with David she strikes poses as her usual weirdo-in-mom-jeans character, and later she gets in a crazed department store fight with Wiig’s Kelly involving an axe. But ultimately Masterminds is sad reminder that McKinnon’s quirks might be getting old. She’s never had characters as idiosyncratic as Wiig’s, and discounting her celebrity impressions, McKinnon’s humor is often reliant on the same model: a raunchy, sexualized woman who’s mostly funny because her characters are butch, aged, and/or made to look unattractive. She’s always a horny teen trapped in the body of the weary old lesbian that lives in the nearby trailer park. The problems of those stereotypes aside, it’s a gimmick that doesn’t work in Masterminds and is probably nearing retirement.
The only funny part of Masterminds, and the one time I actually laughed out loud, was during the outtakes after the credits. And you know a comedy is bad when it ends with bloopers. Ghantt’s story could’ve made for a great black comedy – think the humor of the Coen brothers’ Fargo meets Richard Linklater’s Bernie with the outré antics of SNL’s finest. Instead we get a painfully dense excuse for a movie. I’m not sure what’s worse, that some of the conspirators got light sentences for the robbery, or that this is the movie made about it.