Masterminds — which opens nationwide today (though you’d be hard pressed to know that given the decided lack of promotion) — is proof again that all the talent in the world cannot salvage a bad script, and not even a good screenwriter can make up for terrible performances. Masterminds is an atrociously bad comedy, and absolutely everyone is to blame.
Jared Hess directed Masterminds, and god bless the guy, but if Gentlemen Broncos and Nacho Libre were not proof enough that Napoleon Dynamite was a fluke, Masterminds should seal the deal. Here, he amps up the most obnoxious excesses of his entire cast and lets their grating bad-improv skills run amok. There’s barely a laugh in the entire film, which looks like it was shot entirely in one take while the actors were still working out their characters.
Based on a true story, the premise itself is fascinating, which makes Masterminds all the more a waste. It’s about the 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery — also known as the “hillbillly heist” — the second largest cash robbery in the history of the United States. David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis), an employee of Loomis Fargo, robbed his own vault, left the $17.3 million in cash with his co-conspirators, Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig) and Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson) and fled the country to Mexico. Chambers promised to wire him money in Mexico until the investigation blew over and Ghantt could return to North Carolina.
However, the FBI knew immediately who robbed the vault (Ghant was seen on video camera), and it didn’t take long for the FBI to loop in Kelly Campbell. Steve Chambers and his wife (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) were a little more difficult to connect to the heist. However, the fact that a man who formerly lived in a mobile home was lavishly spending money on a luxury home ($635,000 in cash), expensive cars, and a ring ($42,000 in cash) eventually made it easy to connect the dots. In the meantime, however, Chambers not only refused to wire money to Ghantt in Mexico, but ultimately hired a hitman (Jason Sudeikis) to take him out. The FBI (Leslie Jones, Jon Daly) made easy work of the case, however, and everyone involved was eventually arrested and imprisoned.
The problem with the movie, however, is that the talented cast had no idea what the hell they were trying to do. They’re meant to be trailer-park trash, but they come off as character experiments on a bad night at the Groundlings. Galifianakis seems to be playing a character out of Dumb and Dumber 3: The Dumbening; Kristen Wiig plays what could only be described as her worst SNL character; Owen Wilson plays an Owen Wilson character; and Sudeikis plays a bumbling hitman who can’t pull the trigger after he finds out his target shares the same name and birthdate, which is the dumbest twist since the Martha revelation in Batman vs. Superman.
There is nothing of value in this movie. Even the outtakes during the credits are bad. With a cast like this, and Emily Spivey (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Up All Night) as part of the writing team, Masterminds shouldn’t be nearly as obnoxious and dull as it is, but nothing ever clicks. It’s a farce that never farces; a comedy without jokes. It’s 90-minutes of mugging for the camera, but the only people who feel mugged are those that pay to see Masterminds.
To its credit, Masterminds does nail down the broad strokes of the real story, although there were a couple of noteworthy details the film left out. For instance, after stealing $17.3 million — $11 million of which was in $20 bills — the conspirators had to leave behind $3 million in cash because they couldn’t fit all of it in their cars.
An additional tip reached the FBI when Michelle Chambers made a large deposit at a bank. She had previously been making frequent small deposits to avert suspicion. But after one visit, she asked a teller “How much can I deposit before you have to report it to the feds?” followed by “Don’t worry, it is not drug money,” the bank filled out a suspicious activity report, which ultimately reached the FBI.