“Masterminds” Movie Review


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      If for no other reason, moviegoers should be interested in seeing “Masterminds” just to see what director Jared Hess has come up with for his latest film.  Hess, of course, has two notable and influential comedies on his resume with the surprise 2004 indie hit “Napoleon Dynamite” and the 2006 Jack Black vehicle “Nacho Libre”.  “Napoleon Dynamite” struck an entirely different tone for a comedy than what had come before it.  It was neither a gross out comedy, nor did it play like a laugh a minute sit com.  Instead, “Napoleon Dynamite” unapologetically marched to the beat of its own drum and created a new class of comedic story telling, which primarily includes characters who don’t necessarily need to do or say anything funny to make us laugh.  They simply need to be themselves in order to achieve audience excitement.  “Masterminds” follows a similar path, introducing us to an endless array of unique characters who will make you smile just from the mere sight of them.

     “Masterminds” features an all star comedy cast loaded with everything from proven comedy stars to tried and true SNL vets, plus everything in between.  Zach Galifianakis, who hasn’t had the kind of role he can really let loose in since the original “The Hangover”, is in rare form here.  Galifianakis plays David Ghantt, an armored truck driver who is shall I say, a unique individual.  David has a crush on his partner, Kelly (Kristen Wiig), as the two of them have interesting conversations filled with innuendo that David is typically slow to pick up on.  After an incident at work that results in Kelly being fired, David is coerced by Kelly and her friend, Steve (Owen Wilson), to steal millions of dollars from the armored truck office vault and split it amongst them.  

     David, who possesses the same innocent stupidity as Harry and Lloyd from “Dumb and Dumber”, allows himself to be sent to Mexico in order to lay low with the promise his share of the money will follow along with Kelly who he believes feels the same about him as he does her.  Of course the entire thing is a set up designed to take advantage of David and his gullibility, as Steve and Kelly look at David as the proverbial fall guy.  Hess and his screenwriters, Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer, and Emily Spivey add plenty of well drawn supporting characters to the mix, with each of them being provided several memorable scenes.  Kate McKinnon steals the show early on with her deadpan portrayal of David’s wife to be and later on Jason Sudeikis gives us an interesting take on a hitman sent to Mexico to find and kill David.  The clincher here is the fact the story is actually based on true events and actually stands as the largest single cash robbery in United States history.

     If there’s a weak link anywhere, it’s Owen Wilson, whose performance isn’t anything different than we’ve seen from him before.  But that’s also due in part to the character being the one most generic as the built in up to no good bad guy playing opposite the overtly clueless David and the guilt ridden Kelly.  Leslie Jones also appears as an FBI Agent assigned to the case, but isn’t given much to work with here.  It’s interesting we have three of the four female “Ghostbusters” prominently featured in the film, but no cameo from Melissa McCarthy.  In the case of Wiig and McKinnon, both are given a significant amount of juicy and hilarious material to work their magic with, which is proof these ladies could’ve knocked it out of the park with their summer reboot as well.  If only they had been given something notable to do other than being slimed by CGI ghosts.  Hess ensures these fine comedic actresses are able to let loose in a number of key moments.  And while Wiig remains a more subtle funny woman, McKinnon gives us all we can handle, particularly in an engagement photo sequence with Galifianakis that had to be inspired by the same with Chandler and Monica in “Friends” only here there’s a very funny trailer park twist.

     The best attribute a director like Jared Hess brings to his films is the ability to get his characters to believe they are normal, even when they clearly are not.  And the best part is, none of them care either.  Just as Napoleon got around in silly looking moon boots, David feels comfortable in a long straight hair wig with a pair of cat eye contacts, shorts, and western boots.  There are numerous scenes where he doesn’t even have to say a word and you’ll still be forced to laugh.  And make no mistake, this is Galifianakis’ show and he has no problem carrying the entire film with an astounding array of disguises and hilarious physical comedy that we haven’t seen from him in quite some time. No, “Masterminds” isn’t a classic or even on par with Hess’ previous efforts, but it’s the kind of comedy that doesn't need to rely on sight gags or profane dialogue since the characters themselves spark so many unintentional laughs just by being on screen and emanating their personality to the audience. That in itself is commendable.  GRADE: B-