At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Masterminds “2016”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Heist Comedy/ Stars: Zach Galifanakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Ken Marino/ Runtime: 94 minutes

Wow. I think it is safe to say movie goers that the last decade really truly hasn’t been kind in the least to Jared Hess. I say that because following his breakout success with Napoleon Dynamite all the way back in 2006, he has gone on to direct a number of films that truly have ranged from lukewarm all the way to downright bad and ugly. That being said while Hess’ newest film Masterminds is a film that manages to fall short in a number of vital areas and is definitely not a masterpiece by any reasonable measure the film’s brisk pace as well as its talented comedic ensemble definitely make this film Hess’ best comedy since Napoleon Dynamite though to be fair anyone and their mother can easily tell you that is not exactly the most difficult hurdle for a film to pull off.

The plot is as follows: the film takes a real life event in the form of the legendary 1997 Loomis Fargo cash heist (and if you don’t know about it before going into this don’t worry I didn’t either) and filters the event (as well as the people who lived through them) through the perpetually bizarre lens that characterizes most of the films that Jared Hess has done, and centers on perpetual loser (whether he is a loser in real-life remains to be seen) David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis), who works as a security officer/ driver for Loomis Fargo armored truck company, but who also has always dreamed about a life of adventure. When career criminal Steve Chambers (an actually decent Owen Wilson) sees an easy mark in the form of the armored truck company however, he recruits Ghantt’s former co-worker/ office crush Kelly (Kristen Wiig) into seducing our heroic/ love-stricken buffoon into helping them rob his employer of over $17 million with the empty promise that she will run away with him to Mexico thus providing him an escape from his boring, loveless engagement to his creepier than thou fiancée Jandice (a game Kate McKinnon). As you can probably already guess however, due to all the movies like this and also being fairly intelligent human beings, none of these people are true “masterminds,” which means pretty much nothing goes according to plan, and soon this leads to a series of increasingly absurd events that sees Ghantt squaring off not only with Steve and his gang, but also the authorities and a psychotic yet goofy as hell hitman in his attempts to get revenge and win the girl of his dreams….

Now this film manages to maintain a longstanding Jared Hess tradition which comes in the form of giving all of us in the audience a lead character that isn’t exactly likable because although to be fair Zach Galifianakis does everything he can with the role of Ghantt, and gets a decent amount of laughs along the way the film really truly can never seem to properly figure out if it wants us to root for or against him. This is because while Ghantt is really truly inherently a good guy, the script keeps going out of its way to make him so grating that it becomes difficult after a while… a fact which is made all the more unintentionally hilarious when we consider that the real life David Ghantt actually was a consultant on the film. The same can also be said for Kristen Wiig who is sadly somewhat shortchanged due to the outlandish and wacky antics that the movie is so busy granting Galifianakis left and right that while she isn’t bad in the role, she’s actually fairly decent, her character ultimately proves to be forgettable and a waste for someone of Wiig’s obvious talent.

That being said though despite this film clearly being David Ghantt’s story, it’s the secondary characters that provide the best moments in the film with Owen Wilson, Kate McKinnon, and Jason Sudeikis all standing out in particular for their respective roles as the slimy Steve, the way off her rocker Jandice, and the hilariously psychotic hitman Mike McKinney as all 3 of these fine actors manage to bring distinct, yet all highly commendable forms of complete and total madness to their characters that I feel it is safe to say that without their contributions this movie wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining as it was.

It’s also worth noting that the film also does a commendable job of keeping things moving at an incredibly quick pace. Indeed very little of this film’s 94-minute run time is wasted and just about every scene found within is milked for as much awkward comedy milk as it can possibly get to the point that even when a joke in this film falls flatter than people thought the Earth used to be, and trust me that definitely happens a lot in this film, you can rest easy (or not) knowing that said scene will then proceed to throw at least a dozen more quips, jokes, and gags your way before the story is then allowed to proceed forward. Yet while that’s all well and good this truly gives the film a dilemma that is a true double-edged sword because due to the film moving as fast as it does and is as tight far too often this film’s relatively large ensemble often feels somewhat off balance and while the director does do a passable job of keeping all of the plates spinning certain characters such as Leslie Jones’ FBI Agent Scanlon and Ken Marino’s Doug quite often feel like originally there was more scenes featuring them were filmed, but most of their scenes ended up on the cutting room floor and in fact there were times that I actually forgot that certain vital characters were even in the movie at all.

Now for all of the solid humor that this film brings to the table, I feel that is safe to say that this film really truly is a wee bit too sophomoric to ever become a genuine comedy classic. I say this because a lot of what it really comes down to has to deal with the fact that the film really truly has an over-reliance on lowbrow, gross out humor that will definitely elicit a visceral response from the audience, and not in a good way as over the course of this film disgusting items are placed in mouths, body hair is extracted, and bodily fluids are excreted, and honestly not a single one of these moments ever garner the intended laughs. Honestly if anything these moments only take away from the legitimately funny character moments and subtle sight gags so much so that when the film embraces the quirkiness this truly is an enjoyable comedy, but in the moments that the film leans headfirst into gross-out this movie quickly becomes extremely unwatchable, and rather than stay on the good side of things this film acts extremely indecisive and fluctuates between the two styles quite frequently.

All in all while it really truly does seem safe to say that Masterminds isn’t destined for the pantheon of comedy greatness it’s still a relatively enjoyable and decent bill of fare that stands out in a year where not many strong comedies hit theaters and while the film really isn’t for everyone, and to be honest I really truly don’t think it’s trying to be, it’s definitely worth your time if you are a fan of bizarre and absurd comedy. On a scale of 1-5 I give Masterminds a 3 out of 5