The masterminds behind “Masterminds” somehow could not take the comedy potential of Kristen Wiig, Zach Galifianakis and Owen Wilson and the directorial abilities of Jared Hess (“Napoleon Dynamite,”) and manage to make a film that is watchable.
Based on a true story of a lucrative heist carried out by a group of buffoons, this joyless misadventure tried so hard, and failed so utterly, to create quirky characters that I was left not just unamused, but existentially adrift. It was more than just a waste of time.
Why? I asked myself. Why did I elect to watch this film? How did it even get made? Why would anyone read the script and agree to be in it? If this movie got made, why don’t we all write a movie? What is the point, in the end, of anything? If a great film can restore your faith in humanity, this film left me despairing of man’s role in the universe. There are plenty of great yet stupid comedies out there; this just isn’t one of them.
Galifianakis plays David Ghantt, an armored-car driver with a ludicrous haircut, engaged to one woman but pining for his work crush, Kelly (Wiig.) When her loser pal Steve (Owen Wilson) realizes an opportunity to manipulate the doofus who has a key to the cash, they tempt the lovelorn David into stealing $17 million. Steve is careful to hide his identity, calling himself “Gepetto,” and David takes all the risk. He makes off with the cash but, crucially, only two of three security tapes.
In one of the film’s funnier moments, David dons a disguise that includes cat-eye contact lenses and escapes to Mexico with a very small portion of the cash. There were, in fact, some laughs in the movie — some outrageous car chases and other physical slapstick moments that I’m not too snooty to laugh at.
Where it fails is the characters. Attempting to strike a balance between warmth and the grotesque, I am here to tell you that the scales tip very, very far into the grotesque. Attempts to bring a quality of sympathy to the story only serve to highlight the cartoonish horrors.
Kelly sees the error of her ways and begins to care for David; a hitman turns into a friend through a very unlikely coincidence. If these events were supposed to elevate a gross comedy, they failed. Better to just keep hitting people in the crotch.
The most interesting aspect of “Masterminds” is it is actually based on a true story. The real David Ghantt consulted on the film, and seems to actually have a weird redneck Prince Valiant haircut in real life. The simpletons really did blow an insane amount of cash on new cars and houses, alerting the suspicions of the FBI, and an unskilled hitman was dispatched to Mexico to rub out Ghantt.
I made the mistake of watching “Masterminds” because the cast looked funny, but they were just funny-looking. It was their weak attempts at “characters” that sunk this film. Like an undercooked sketch show, everyone tried to look as stupid as possible, and I guess they succeeded individually in looking ridiculous. It just wasn’t funny, and it certainly wasn’t clever. There are plenty of weirder, grosser or better-written comedies out there.
“Masterminds” is currently available to rent.