MASTERMINDS

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Jared Hess

Stars: Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Devin Ratray, Mary Elizabeth Ellis.
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The daring heist and the subsequent falling out amongst double crossing thieves has always been a key feature of crime capers from the 1949 noir drama Criss Cross through to the iconic 1969 caper The Italian Job, and William Friedkin’s comic take on a true life crime with 1978’s The Brinks Job. And now we get Masterminds, which is based on the true life robbery from a Loomis Fargo armoured car depot in 1997.
In 1997 armoured car driver David Ghantt (played here by Zach Galifianakis, from The Hangover trilogy, etc) pulled off one of the largest heists in US history when he managed to steal $17 million from the Loomis Fargo armoured car company. Ghantt, who at one stage is described as looking like the love child of Kenny Rogers and Kenny Loggins, is something of a sad sack, a bumbling nice guy and perennial loser. While he often dreams of being the hero of a holdup scenario, in reality his life is rather dull and monotonous. He is about to be married to the aggressive Jandice (Kate McKinnon), a match not exactly made in heaven. But the rather naive simpleton is about to be drawn into a brazen scheme and his life is about to be changed when he is seduced into committing an audacious robbery by the allure of a sexy and attractive woman.
Inspired by watching news reports of Phillip Johnson, who robbed a Loomis Fargo bank, petty criminal Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson) decides to rob an armoured car company. He is keen to change his dead end life and move away from the trailer park that he calls home. Knowing that Kelly Chambers (Kristen Wiig) has been recently fired from the company he asks her help in finding an inside employee who can be used to gain access. Kelly has been flirting with Dave, and using her feminine wiles she manages to convince him to take part.
But once Dave has stolen the money, Steve sends him off to Mexico with $20,000, telling him to wait there. Steve has no intention of sending Dave any more money; instead he is setting him up as the fall guy for the authorities. Meanwhile Kelly, who has developed a soft spot for the hapless Ghantt, wrestles with her conscience. Tough FBI agent Scanlon (played by Leslie Jones, from the recent remake of Ghostbusters, etc) is on the trail of the thieves as well.
Chambers spends the money on luxury goods and establishes a lavish lifestyle to please his grasping wife Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Ellis). When Dave realises that he has been used and threatens to tell the police the identity of the mastermind behind the robbery Steve hires dimwitted hitman Mike McKinney (Jason Sudeikis) to silence him. This sets in motion some physical comedy, with a great slapstick chase sequence through the dusty streets of a small Mexican town that is one of the funniest moments of this other wise rather inert and tonally uneven comedy.
It is hard to believe that this strange story is true.  There was probably a great caper film to be made from this story, but unfortunately Masterminds is a wasted opportunity. The script here, from a trio of tyro writers drawn from the world of television, unfortunately plays the material more for laughs with broad farce. It is full of dumb humour and some of the humour seems forced. The writing team of Chris Bowman, former actor turned writer Hubbel Palmer and Emily Spivey (King Of The Hill, Madtv, etc) try to work in some gross out jokes, but much of the humour falls flat. It is obvious that, while the writers have stuck to the basic facts of the story, they taken enormous liberties with the material.
The director is Jared Hess, who is best known for the quirky and droll adolescent coming of age comedy Napoleon Dynamite, which gave us the quintessential cinema nerd and a character far more memorable than any of the cliched white trash criminals here. The pacing is a little sluggish at times. The title itself comes across as rather ironic, especially given the bumbling incompetence and criminal stupidity of this bunch of crooks. As the end credits roll we get to see images of some of the real characters and learn of their fate.
The characters here seem dumbed down for laughs, but come across as cliches. Galifianakis gives us another variation on the sort of naive and idiotic manchild that has become a staple of his repertoire as Ghantt, a bumbling character to be ridiculed and laughed at. But here it becomes more irritating than endearing.Galifianakis brings plenty of manic energy to his role, but he seems to be miscast here. He spends a lot of time stuck with a variety of bad wigs as a disguise. Wilson is cast against type as the white trash villain here, while Sudeikis brings a deadpan style to his performance as the world’s most incompetent and softhearted hitman.
Masterminds reunites three of the stars of the recent remake of Ghostbusters. Wiig brings some depth and emotion to her performance as the conflicted Kelly. McKinnon is a lot of fun and brings a  manic quality to her small role as the mad Jandice, while Jones does what she can with a fairly cliched character.
On the strength of its cast Masterminds was released into cinemas for a limited season without any media previews or much in the way of publicity, which is unfortunately indicative of a lack of confidence in the film by its distributors.

★★☆

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