Are there many words that put more fear into the heart of a film viewer more than ‘based on a true story’? Ostensibly adding a joy to the film because the event depicted actually happened, what is tends to mean in practice is that a man was once alive, or somebody with the same name as one of the characters actually existed. In an exception to the rule, Masterminds actually veers quite close to the truth, probably because it counted one of the real people as an advisor. The accuracy is really the only good point about Masterminds – it’s a hideously muddled film, a comedy with no laughs that is horrible to watch.
Based by a true story (I’m sorry – I had to), the film tells the story of David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis), a simple driver at an armoured car company who is led astray by his flirtatious work crush Kelly (Kristen Wiig). Kelly and her friend Steve (Owen Wilson) plan a robbery and convince David to do an inside job, pulling off one of the biggest bank heists in US history with barely any trouble. Ghantt is sent to hide out in Mexico, waiting for Kelly to come and join him but, after an unexpected guest appears in her place, he starts to suspect he might have been played. With Steve flashing the cash, Ghantt making a return and the FBI closing in, things quickly start to go south.
Masterminds is the new film from Jared Hess, who is better known for Napoleon Dynamite – it has the same style, blending absurd humour with daft characters, but it really lacks by comparison. It has a decent-enough cast, but they fail to make any positive impressions (or any impression at all). Galifianakis is our lead, a thinly-sketched caricature of the South with an elaborate accent to boot, and his is such an off-putting performance that watching him is a chore.
He’s not helped by the rest of the cast, who seem to rely on their reputations rather than providing any funny moments. Wiig is here in an attempt to generate some heart, but there is no real romantic chemistry between her and Galifianakis and the story is too rushed to be convincing. (Still, she’s better than fellow Ghostbusters Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, who are in another ‘comedy’ film in what I can only assume is another box-ticking exercise.) Owen Wilson plays the same likeable shmuck, only less likeable, and Jason Sudeikis is the only source of humour as a mellow hitman.
It wouldn’t have been so bad that the characters are poor if the film were funny at all, but it fails on that front too. The humour often falls into the lowest bracket (ending a montage with a fart, for example), but it’s so half-hearted about it that even that doesn’t generate a laugh. Thank goodness there are some action sequences to break up the continuous barrage of scenes packed with non-sequiturs, or the movie could probably help you lapse into a coma. I shouldn’t be too harsh on it – the cinematography is polished and it looks better than comedies tend to, but that’s about the only positive point I can offer.
It’s hard to really figure out who the audience for this film is, because I can’t really fathom any viewer actually enjoying it or feeling it was worth their money. It really is the laziest excuse for a picture, compiling lame joke after lame joke and hoping you’ll land a laugh or two (and not even doing that). The sole benefit of sitting through Masterminds is that I can warn you to not suffer it too – if you pay to go and watch this, they’ll only make more.
Director: Jared Hess
Cast: Kate McKinnon (Jandice), Kristen Wiig (Kelly), Jason Sudeikis (Mike McKinney), Zach Galifianakis (David Ghantt), Owen Wilson (Steve), Leslie Jones (Detective)
Running Time: 95 Mins