Get stupid rich
They say that ‘truth is stranger than fiction,’ well, that’s certainly the case according to American author Mark Twain, who once wrote the famed idiom — if only filmmaker Jared Hess had listened. Kinda-sorta based on the 1997 Loomis Fargo bank robbery in Charlotte, North Carolina, in which 17.3 million dollars was stolen, Masterminds tells the bizarre ‘true story’ of David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis), a simpleton armored-truck-driver who, aided and swayed by a bunch of sloppy amateurish crooks, managed to pull off one of the biggest heists in recorded U.S. history.
Employed at the bank Loomis, Fargo & Co. as an armored vehicle driver (transporting millions of dollars on a daily basis), David Ghantt longed for adventure — more specifically, he fantasized about getting robbed and coming out the other end a hero. David’s monotonous life, however, takes a drastic turn when the stunning and flirtatious Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig) is assigned as his partner, the two hitting it off one day at a shooting range. Although engaged to Jandice (Kate McKinnon) — an eccentric woman originally betrothed to Ghantt’s distant cousin before his untimely death — the discontented David dreams of running away with the beautiful Kelly, who soon sabotages her own job (getting herself fired), Kelly happy just to live off welfare.
Bunking with her childhood pal, small-time felon Steve Chambers (a miscast Owen Wilson), his wife and two sons, along with a couple of Steve’s mates, Kelly is eventually convinced by Steve to lure her ex-colleague, David, into a half-baked scheme to rob Loomis Fargo, the place she had previously worked. Using his obvious crush on Kelly, David is coerced into pulling off the ludicrous theft, one that could break both Kelly (uneasy about the whole scenario) and Steve out of their dead-end lives — David simply being used as a scapegoat. Sneaking inside the bank’s vault and loading a preposterous amount of money into the back of a van, David blunderingly manages to pull off the impossible — looting over 17 million dollars in hard cash, though leaving behind a glaring trail of evidence. After making his getaway, David unwisely hands the majority of the wealth over to the double-crossing Steve and his cronies before skipping town, David unaware that he was being set up to take the fall — David’s ‘love’ Kelly, whom he trusted dearly, promising to reunite with him abroad.
With the bandits blowing the bills on lavish luxuries — Steve in particular living large, purchasing a mansion-like property in a gated community and a flashy new ride — the corrupt architects begin to look more and more suspicious. David, now on the run, having bitten off more than he can chew, must evade the authorities — Special Agent Scanlon (Leslie Jones) and her associate (Jon Daly), who are hot on his heals — and dodge a dim-witted assassin, Mike McKinney (Jason Sudeikis), while trying to even out the score and turn the tables on the people he once banked on most.
Penned by a trio of unproven feature film scribes — Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer and Saturday Night Live (2001) sketch writer Emily Spivey — it’s the uninspired screenplay that ultimately hauls this one down, Masterminds dotted with familiar crime-caper clichés, lowbrow humor and lackluster stagings, the script giving a hugely fictionalized account — one that’s full of jovial buffoonery — of this intriguing yet bonkers sting. And to be frank, this sort of dramatization really wasn’t necessary as a straightforward case study, examining the fumbles and bumbles of the persons involved (and what went wrong in the process), would have more than sufficed — a formula that worked wonders for Michael Bay’s bodybuilder crime comedy, Pain & Gain (2013). One such example is the ‘money in the underwear’ scene, where our unlikely anti-hero attempts to flee the country and head to Mexico. Instead of re-creating events somewhat ‘accurately’ (with the real David stuffing 30 thousand dollars into his boots), the clueless Ghantt is ‘dumbified,’ this, in turn, stretching the character and story’s credibility, David seen with an absurd (and hugely conspicuous) amount of moola shoved into a pair of exposed granny pants — this detail (which screams ‘untrue’) perhaps exaggerated to please those immature teenage boys. Which brings me to my next concern: audience.
More focused on slapstick set pieces and loony outfits (David adorned in an array of awful disguises), Masterminds spends way too much time catering to the lowest common denominator, in this case prepubescent males, with most of the jokes failing to land — a scene that sees David get into a scrap with a moray eel is just plain embarrassing, though the film’s biggest ‘stinker’ is undoubtedly a shart sight gag that takes place in the crystal clear waters of a swimming pool.
But hey, it’s not all bad. Masterminds does have its shining moments (even if these are few and far between), particularly when director Jared Hess — of Napoleon Dynamite (2004) fame — embraces the silliness of the scenario, the flick living somewhere between ‘fact’ and ‘fiction.’ Some of the physical quips are right on the money, while comedians Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon — who starred alongside one another in this years Ghostbusters reboot — both hit their respective marks, Jones playing a brash detective and McKinnon Ghantt’s batty fiancé, two criminally short but fun bit parts.
On the topic of performance, former The Hangover (2009) star Zach Galifianakis (sporting an absurd hairdo) is mildly amusing as daft desperado David Ghantt, this overly dopey rendering perhaps throwing most of the flick’s plausibility out the window — considering that the real Ghantt worked as a consultant here, Galifianakis’ act is a tad surprising. The lovely Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids (2011), does all that she can as femme fatele Kelly, the ‘Bonnie’ to David’s ‘Clyde,’ the skilled actress (not given a lot of material to work with) probably the most ill-served member of the cast, whereas Owen Wilson, Wedding Crashers (2005), does his usual ‘laid-back’ shtick as the con-gang boss, Steve, his character charring out those familiar ‘kinda like, you know’ phrases, Wilson hardly registering on the chuckle meter. Finally, Jason Sudeikis, We’re the Millers (2013), revels in his animated role as hired hitman Mike McKinney, the sadistic killer with a heart of gold, who winds up befriending Ghantt, the man he was formerly sent to execute — this tidbit (I kid you not) oddly true, the two men bonding on a beach over in Mexico.
Although set in 1997, the period-piece aesthetic is hardly noticeable, Masterminds lacking visual spunk and basic excitement, the movie, on the whole, feeling like a middle-of-the-road effort for filmmaker Hess — who hasn’t really struck it big since helming the indie nerd romp Napoleon Dynamite over a decade ago. While far from terrible, I’d say that Masterminds is more of a time stealer rather than a laugh-out-loud entertainer, the film a tad too second-rate and goofy to service its screwball based-on-fact origin.
Fun fact: having undergone several name changes — the film originally titled Loomis Fargo, then Armored Car, before finally settling on Masterminds — the flick’s indefinite hold-up (Masterminds formerly set to be released in late 2015) was due to financing issues surrounding Relativity Media’s bankruptcy, the production house being the chief culprit for the movie’s delayed theatrical run.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by S-Littner