“There came a point in Masterminds when I couldn’t help but buckle down and laugh”

by Steve Pulaski

Masterminds is the second of what appears to be several films Relativity Media is releasing post-financial calamity after declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In addition to The Disappointments Room, Masterminds‘s release date was shifted around before being indefinitely postponed around this time in 2015. Finally, it arrives in theaters with very little marketing and destined to sit alongside films like Everybody Wants Some!!, War Dogs, and The Bronze as one of the funniest comedies of the year that went criminally unseen by the vast majority of the public.

Masterminds never channels comedic greatness, but it’s remarkably constant in the way it fuses together dopey humor (think Hot Rod) with a heavily dramatized retelling of the 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery, which currently stands as one of largest cash robberies on American soil, with over $17 million stolen from the North Carolina office’s vault. It echoes this year’s fantastic War Dogs in the way it handles its story with comedic heft and a bit of grittiness, although it does put more of an emphasis on its quirky, off-the-wall characters than that film did. Couple that with a terrific, star-studded cast nicely mixed of those with versatile experience and others who will certainly be in the more experienced souls’ shoes shortly, and you have a rousing time at the multiplex.

Directed by
Jared Hess
Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, Zach Galifianakis
Release Date
30 September 2016
Steve’s Grade: B+

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The film revolves around David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis), who works for Loomis Fargo doing everything from driving an armored truck filled with money to actually working the cash vault. He’s the portly, squirrely type with a southern drawl that’s so easy to mimic and a sense about him that’s the same way, as well, as especially when we see how his fiancee Jandice (Kate McKinnon) obviously takes advantage of him. David’s silver lining in life comes in the form of his coworker Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig), who is everything he wants a woman, until she gets fired and begins hanging out with petty criminal Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson).

After seeing a man get caught for stealing millions of dollars from Loomis Fargo on the news, Steve gets the brilliant idea that he could do the same thing, only not get caught. He pesters Kelly for tips on how to infiltrate the Loomis vault, and she calls on David to pull off a job she bills as one that will have both of them eloping to Mexico and living off of the riches. David complies and successfully steals $17 million in cash before assuming the identity of one of Steve’s friends and traveling to Mexico to live in a five-star hotel, awaiting the arrival of Kelly, which we know will never come. Kelly and Steve give poor David about $20,000 and promise the rest later, while they flaunt it in every conceivable way.

Things are going well until hot leads and whispers start traveling and FBI Agent Scanlon (Leslie Jones) is on the case, in addition to Mike McKinney (Jason Sudeikis), a hitman hired by Steve to take out David until he discovers something incredible about David that makes him rethink things.

Everyone in Masterminds feels like an exaggerated archetype of their usual self, even Owen Wilson, who, like his frequent costar Ben Stiller, is someone you just can’t believe would have the heart nor gall to pull off a project of this magnitude. Zach Galifianakis, who is largely trusted with upholding most of this project, does some exuberantly talented and fun work with his character, making it assembled almost entirely of his own quirks, and Kristen Wiig is charming in all her awkwardness.

Then, of course, there’s my new favorite actress Kate McKinnon, who owns her essentially glorified cameo by expertly owning her deadpan role, built off of innuendos and passive-aggressive one-liners directed at Galifianakis’s David. At first, I wished she played Kelly, until I realized that particular role could’ve shortchanged her comic talent of being an off-kilter presence, and a little McKinnon goes a long way, as seen in Ghostbusters. She’s simply an incredible force here, destined to be in the driver’s seat of her own projects in the future.

Masterminds was directed by Jared Hess, the same man who brought usNapoleon Dynamite, which I still have never been able to successfully tolerate long enough to sit through, and Gentleman Broncos. With this project, Hess gets the opportunity to excellently showcase the way his comedic forces work when given a larger scope, and shows what happens when a trio of competent writers (Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer, and Emily Spivey respectively) pen a screenplay that’s just completely out there in its hilarity and silliness. There came a point in Masterminds when I couldn’t help but buckle down and laugh, and maybe that’s ultimately the most simplified reason to enjoy the picture – sooner or later it begs you to laugh, on top of appreciating the talented cast that all perform as if they were the film’s central focus.