MASTERMINDS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude and Sexual Humor, some Language and Violence

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Directed by: Jared Hess

Written by: Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer & Emily Spivey

Starring: Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Mary Elizabeth Ellis & Ken Marino

MASTERMINDS was originally slated to hit theaters in August 2015 and, due to the studio declaring bankruptcy, its theatrical release was postponed until this weekend. When you look at the cast, crew, and source material behind this film, you get the sense that this might be an underrated sleeper hit of 2016. The script is based on a real-life heist of idiotic proportions, the cast features big comedic talent (including 3/4ths of the recent GHOSTBUSTERS remake) and director Jared Hess has tackled quirky comedies in the past (NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, NACHO LIBRE). Though its true story is anything but bland and forgettable, MASTERMINDS somehow manages to be bland and forgettable. The film only received a handful of laughs from an awkwardly silent theater and a majority of those were caused by one particular cast member (more on him in a moment).

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The year is 1997 and the place is North Carolina. David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis) drives an armored truck for Loomis Fargo and dreams of making a big name for himself. Though he always imagined fighting off robbers, David soon finds himself persuaded to steal over 17 million dollars from his workplace due to the urgings of sexy co-worker Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig) and her manipulative friend Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson). After the initial heist seemingly goes off without a hitch, tensions soon erupt within the group of white trash thieves. This is further elevated by FBI Special Agent Scanlon (Leslie Jones) hot on the case, with David as a prime suspect. Extravagant spending, bad disguises, crazy coincidences, and wacky backstabbing schemes soon follow.

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Look at that cast! Just look at them! Out of the bevy of recognizable faces, only one character sticks out: Jason Sudeikis as a psychotic hitman. He steals the entire show, as if there was much worth stealing in the first place, and provides the film’s only laughs. I cannot overstate how funny Jason Sudeikis is in this film. This is one of the Sudeikis’s best performances and it’s tragically trapped in one of the worst films of his career. Everyone else comes off as various degrees of bland, though the end credit bloopers show that they all seemed to have fun on the set.

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Zach Galifianakis’s only funny bits have already been given away in the trailer (the best of which involves a horribly misguided disguise), meaning there weren’t that many to begin with. His performance is phoned in, but it’s nothing compared to the Kristen Wiig’s hollow love-interest role. Kelly Campbell’s relationship with David might have been interesting in a better film, but I never really understood where she was coming from and eventually gave up on any attempt to care. Owen Wilson’s villainous Steve Chambers has an okay running gag of overspending (a detail that’s completely accurate to the ridiculous true story), but his presence is underutilized. Kate McKinnon is cringe-worthy as David’s mentally unhinged fiancé and Leslie Jones doesn’t get much to do as the FBI agent investigating the case.

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As mentioned before, MASTERMINDS is funniest during Jason Sudeikis’s scenes. If the film had maintained that level of energy and hilarity for a majority of the running time, this would be a very different (far more positive) review. The script frequently stoops to low-brow potty humor, instead of focusing on the hilarity of the ludicrous true crime story that inspired it. The worst joke comes in a fart gag that devolves into a diarrhea scene. Another needlessly unfunny moment has a character farting into another character’s butt. That’s the level that this film is playing on. Jared Hess’s past efforts have showcased a unique sense of humor that works for some viewers and doesn’t quite work for others. I like NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and NACHO LIBRE, but MASTERMINDS feels like it’s attempting to recapture that quirkiness with a bigger budget and frequently falls flat. I wouldn’t be surprised if the studio meddled with this film to the point where it didn’t resemble Hess’s original vision at all or he might have simply lost his touch on this project.

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It should speak volumes that I laughed more whilst reading the Wikipedia page about the 1997 Loomis Fargo heist than I did for most of MASTERMINDS’s running time. I’ll say it again, Jason Sudeikis’s hitman is the funniest thing in this whole damn movie. The rest of it is generic, bland, and lazy. There’s really no discernible excuse for why this film shouldn’t have been hilarious. The material is perfectly honed for this director and the cast seem primed to make this into a goofy romp. Sadly, MASTERMINDS is a disappointment that only contains a handful of laughs and an interesting true story that’s far more entertaining than the film itself.

Grade: D+

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