×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Masterminds’

Zach Galifianakis succeeds in making an already ridiculous crime even funnier in this caper comedy from the director of 'Napoleon Dynamite.'

With:
Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Jon Daly, Ross Kimball, Devin Ratray, Mary Elizabeth Ellis.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2461150/

Arguably the most outrageous line in the consistently bonkers heist comedy “Masterminds” occurs just four minutes in, after Zach Galifianakis, playing an armored-truck driver with an overgrown beard and Little Lord Fauntleroy haircut, shoots a hole in his shorts when ineptly trying to holster a handgun in his waistband. It is then that director Jared Hess (making his funniest film since “Napoleon Dynamite”) flashes the words “Based on a true story” across the screen. Sure enough, as crazy as the details can get, the basic facts of how a handful of rednecks stole, squandered, and were ultimately forced to surrender nearly $17 million in Loomis Fargo loot are true, making for a movie that will leave many gawking in disbelief — and the beleaguered Relativity laughing all the way to the bank.

At least, that would have been the case had this legitimately funny movie co-produced by “Saturday Night Live’s” Lorne Michaels and starring nearly the entire new “Ghostbusters” squad (minus Melissa McCarthy) opened last October — as originally planned — before Relativity, bankrupt and unable to foot the advertising costs, was forced to pull it from the release schedule. The jokes are no less entertaining a year later (and some, like Leslie Jones ranting about being mistaken for “a dude,” after having faced such slander in real life, actually play better now), though audiences have a way of keeping a skeptical distance when delays are involved. That means “Masterminds” will have a harder go of it, especially with another Galifianakis laffer (“Keeping Up With the Joneses”) opening just three weeks later.

Galifianakis plays David Ghantt as a socially awkward, over-compensating doofus determined to impress his sexy, newly single Loomis Fargo colleague Kelly (Kristen Wiig). Their chemistry — he exudes a sort of dopey schoolboy crush, she’s tentatively intrigued to be receiving a decent guy’s attentions for once — is easily the most winsome ingredient in a comedy where every detail is offered up as some sort of joke. As in “Napoleon Dynamite,” Hess and his team waste no opportunity to potentially earn a laugh, from costumes to props to wallpaper to hairdos. This sometimes leaves a scene feeling forced and overcrowded (as when Galifianakis walks on screen wearing a white tuxedo and camouflage-print cummerbund), but other times lands like the cherry on top of an already hilarious sundae (driving off in a run-down pickup truck with a makeshift plywood gate where the missing door should be).

David’s charm springs from his small-town, small-time-dreamer status. Content to guzzle Cheerwine and pop Goo Goo Clusters with his bossy and all-around unpleasant fiancée Jandice (the Emmy-winning Kate McKinnon, a scene-stealer here), David has never left his native North Carolina and is, as the film’s sarcastic title implies, the state’s least likely criminal mastermind. And yet, his guilelessness is the very quality that Kelly and her opportunity-seeking accomplice Steve (Owen Wilson, barely able to keep a straight face) identify as their ticket out of the trailer park: David not only holds the keys to the Loomis Fargo vault, he’s eager to please his pretty new friend.

And so David stays after work one evening, tossing wads of bills into the back of his armored van (in real life, Ghantt stole more than he could actually transport), knocking out all but one of the security cameras (a real mistake), and temporarily locking himself inside with the cash (when really, the thieves managed to lock themselves out of a sealed truck full of money). Then he flies to Mexico in the world’s most conspicuous disguise — which Galifianakis himself describes as “like Jesus and a cat made a baby,” but actually looks even sillier than that — to wait for Kelly to join him and Steve to wire him his share. Of course she never shows, and Steve sends a hit man (played by a pervy-looking Jason Sudeikis) to rub him out.

While David quickly blows through his spending money buying a clownish red cowboy suit and Bob Ross-style perm (part of his next attention-grabbing disguise), Steve and his wife go on an extravagant spending spree, buying a mansion and a host of jaw-droppingly tacky home furnishings (some of which, like the velvet Elvis painting, are true to the actual case). It wouldn’t take an FBI genius to solve this mystery, and Jones and Jon Daly play their respective detectives as being a long way from masterminds themselves, though the case has a way of playing straight into their hands.

Working to the advantage of Hess and his screenwriting trio (Chris Bowman and Hubbel Palmer, with “SNL” vet Emily Spivey), the weirdest aspects of this story simply couldn’t be invented, putting “Masterminds” in that same credibility-straining zone as Jim Carrey con-man comedy “I Love You Philip Morris” and the Coen brothers’ “Fargo” (which, faux “true story” claims aside, proved to be totally fabricated after all). Like both of those films, extreme regional accents serve to heighten the comedy (Sudeikis may as well be channeling former North Carolina resident — and executive producer — Danny McBride), while underscoring the characters’ ignorance. Still, it’s this improv-ready ensemble’s wit and Galifianakis’ own gift for physical humor that account for most of the laugh-out-loud moments, heightened by silly flourishes so eccentric (an assassin whose weapon of choice is an Alamo-era musket, a nose-whistling FBI informant resentful of his nouveau-riche neighbors) they could only be found in a Jared Hess movie. Now if only the masterminds in Relativity’s marketing department could figure out a way to let potential audiences know how amusing this under-the-radar release really is.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Masterminds'

Reviewed at TCL Chinese Theatre Imax, Hollywood, Sept. 26, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 95 MIN.

Production: A Relativity Studios release and presentation, in association with Surefire Entertainment Capital, of a Relativity Studios, Michaels/Goldwyn production. Producers: Lorne Michaels, John Goldwyn. Executive producers: Ryan Kavanaugh, Dana Brunetti, Kevin Messick, Jody Hill, Danny R. McBride, Erin David, Joseph Nicholas, Jerry Lasky, Tucker Tooley, Jill Messick, Adam Fields, Andrew Panay, Kenneth L. Halsband, Brent Almond, Brett Dahl.. Co-producer: D. Scott Lumpkin.

Crew: Director: Jared Hess. Screenplay: Chris Bowman & Hubbel Palmer, Emily Spivey; story: Spivey, Bowman & Palmer. Camera (color): Erik Wilson. Editor: David Renni.

With: Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Jon Daly, Ross Kimball, Devin Ratray, Mary Elizabeth Ellis.

More Film

  • Josefina-Molina

    Josefina Molina: Still Battling After All These Years

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — She isn’t done yet. The battling character of Josefina Molina, winner of Spain’s 2019 National Cinematography Prize, was glimpsed in her acceptance speech at the San Sebastian Festival on Saturday. She used part to thank those who had given crucial help, such as, among women, editors Nieves Martin (1981’s “Función de Noche,” [...]

  • Suro

    Lastor, ‘The Endless Trench’s’ Irusoin, Malmo Team for Mikel Gurrea’s ‘Suro’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN – Barcelona-based Lastor Media and Malmo Pictures have teamed with San Sebastian’s Irusoin to produce “Suro” (The Cork), the feature debut of Mikel Gurrea and a product of San Sebastian’s Ikusmira Berriak program. The film stars Laia Costa, who broke through with Sebastian Schipper’s “Victoria” and also serves as executive producer, and Pol López [...]

  • Ane

    Madrid’s ECAM Incubator Develops Terrorism Drama 'Ane'

    SAN SEBASTIAN — For the second year in a row, the ECAM Madrid Film School has paired a number of up-and-coming filmmakers with various industry veterans for an Incubator program part of the school broader development arm called The Screen. For its initial edition in 2018, this Incubator selected five feature projects, putting the selected [...]

  • Roma Cinematography

    'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' and 'Roma' Win LMGI Awards for Motion Pictures

    Two major 2018 releases – actioner “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and critics’ darling “Roma” – were honored for film location work by the Location Managers Guild International at a ceremony this evening at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The 6th Annual LMGI Awards also recognized “Chernobyl” and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” [...]

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

  • Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider'

    Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider' Gets a Concert/Screening Premiere at Radio City

    In a year full of major 50th anniversary commemorations — from Woodstock to the moon landing — why not one for “Easy Rider,” Dennis Hopper’s hippie-biker flick that was released on July 14, 1969? That was the idea when a rep for Peter Fonda, who starred in the film as the laid-back Captain America, reached out [...]

  • Costa Gavras

    Costa-Gavras and Cast on Nationality, Identity, and Cinema

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Though he’s been based in Paris since 1955 and came up through the French film industry, director Costa-Gavras has never forgotten his roots. “Those who are born Greek,” said the Peloponnese-born filmmaker at a Saturday press conference,  “stay Greek all their lives.” The once-and-always Greek was not just in San Sebastian to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content