2016, PG-13, 94 mins.
Kristen Wiig as Kelly / Owen Wilson as Steve / Jason Sudeikis as Mike McKinney / Zach Galifianakis as David Ghantt / Mary Elizabeth Ellis as Michelle / Ken Marino as Doug / Kate McKinnon as Jandice / Rhoda Griffis as Real Estate Agent / Jon Daly as Detective / Leslie Jones as Detective
Directed by Jared Hess / Written by Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer and Emily Spivey
speaking, movies don't make me ill. They
would have to do something wholly repellent to make me sick to my stomach
and want to jump out of my cinema chair and flee for the exit.
contains a moment that elicited such a response.
I have crippling
arachnophobia. Always have. Always
will. There's a very brief,
but freakishly nightmarish scene in the new fact-based caper comedy
MASTERMINDS that had me assuming the fetal position and sucking my thumb.
Zach Galifianakis is given a dead tarantula by Kristen Wiig (don't
ask). Now, I'm petrified of
tarantulas, dead or alive. What happens next, though, traumatized
me. He takes it out of its box, puts it in his mouth, chomps
down, and proceeds to chew on it until its guts begin spewing out of his
mouth like snot.
This image will
never be erased from my mind. It's
stuck there...forever...and for that I can never forgive MASTERMINDS.
This is just one
example of many vile and disgustingly unfunny scenes that permeates this
film, which is - in a cruel and ironically hysterical twist of fate -
based on an actual event perpetrated by real human beings.
The film takes its inspiration from one of the largest cash
robberies in American history, the 1997 Loomis Fargo Robbery in North
Carolina. $17.3 million was
taken from the Loomis Fargo regional office vault by one of its own
security officials, working in concert with an ex-employee of the company
and a slew of other accomplices. A
subsequent FBI investigation led to eight people being arrested that were
directly involved with the crime and sixteen others that indirectly aided
the eight. 95% of the money
was recovered, leaving roughly $1.5 million left unaccounted for.
untapped comic potential for a premise such as this, but MASTERMINDS
fumbles the ball so repeatedly throughout in terms of garnering our
interest and generating sustained laughs that it becomes very easy to
mentally check out early on. The
film is a rich smorgasbord of remarkably talented comedic performers that
rarely, if ever, are allowed to be gut-bustingly funny throughout this
film's watching checking 94 minutes.
Rather disappointingly, MASTERMINDS is directed by Jared Hess, whom
previously directed absurdist delights like NAPOLEON
DYNAMITE and the underrated NACHO
LIBRE. Hess is a
filmmaker that knows how to embrace his films' incomparable level of
idiosyncratic weirdness, but the tone of MASTERMINDS is schizophrenic and
places too much emphasis on broad farcical laughs and, yes, puerile gutter
trash/bodily function humor that squanders the limitless abilities of all
the participants involved.
To say that this
film is ever-so-loosely based on the Loomis Fargo Robbery is kind of a
laughable understatement in its own right, seeing as just about every
character that populates this film never once feels like they occupy any
normal plane of reality. Set
in late 1990's Charlotte, North Carolina, MASTERMINDS introduces us to one
of the - ahem! - masterminds of the robbery, armored car driver and
security man David Ghantt (a desperately unfunny Galifianakis) and to look
at the man you have to wonder why any employer looking for qualified
professionals to guard millions of dollars worth of money would ever give
this bumbling sad sack a job. Dissatisfied
with his state in life, he's coerced by his former colleague (recently
fired) Kelly Campbell (Wigg, slumming it big time here) that he's smitten
with to help her rob the Loomis Fargo vault, with the help from some of
her own accomplices, including her pal Steve Chambers (a mostly bored Owen
flirtatious finagling, David is convinced to perpetrate the robbery and
miraculously manages to steal the $17 million.
Steve insists on sending David down to Mexico with some of the cash
to stay in hiding and preserve the whole gang's cover, to which he agrees,
but it becomes clear that Steve wants all the money to himself and wants
David out of the picture. To
eliminate any loose ends, Steve hires an assassin (Jason Sudeikis, the
least plausibly cast assassin in movie history) to take out David, while
Kelly - rattled with guilt - tries to let David know of Steve's nefarious
commits one unpardonable error when it comes to silver screen comedies:
it's rarely funny. It
generates some modest chuckles here and there (one amusing subplot
involves chronicling the hitman's abysmal first attempt to kill David and
how he unexpectedly finds a personal manner of befriending him later) and
Hess really knows how to give his comedies a garish visual identity (his
films contain some of the worst dressed characters ever committed to
celluloid). The initial wow
factor of seeing the film's relative who's-who of comic performers sharing
the spotlight here is indeed strong, but once it becomes abundantly clear
that Hess displays very little affinity at harnessing them all to their
full potential then MASTERMINDS becomes a tedious slog to sit through and
endure. Perhaps its biggest sin is this: No one is likeable
here, nor does any command our rooting interest.
What's the point of immersing ourselves in MASTERMINDS if we don't
give a hoot about anyone?
Take David, for
instance. This dude is a
walking caricature. With his
shoulder length Jesus-like mane of hair, trailer park trash wardrobe
aesthetic, and monumentally dim-witted disposition, Galifianakis and Hess
rarely make a case for why this dislikeable loser should capture our
attention and sympathy (it's also not really helped that the film elevates
Galifianakis to leading man status here, which is a mistake seeing as he's
always more effective in supporting roles).
The rest of the cast fares no better, especially Wilson, who seems
so visibly bored in the film in a pretty meaty role that you want to reach
out to the screen and pinch him to see if he's awake.
Wiig does what she can with an horrendously underwritten role
that's frankly beneath her, and, rather surprisingly, she's flanked by two
of her GHOSTBUSTERS co-stars in
Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, the former that perhaps plays the most
grounded character of the bunch as an FBI agent hot on everyone's trail.
McKinnon, on the other hand, is in pure distracting camera mugging
mode playing David's domineering fiancé.
She oversells and plays the role like she was inhabiting a serial
killer, which makes her more creepy than funny.
As mentioned and
in closing, MASTERMINDS wallows in some putrid gags, like the
aforementioned tarantula corpse (shivers) meal and a later moment
involving a fight between McKinnon and Wigg that builds up to one pumping
vaginal cream into the other's gaping mouth. The film also plays off of lame Mexico stereotypes and shows
David succumbing to explosive diarrhea in a public swimming pool after
drinking some local water that looks like urine. Scenes like this made me lurch in my theatre seat out of
self-pitying apathy. When
MASTERMINDS is not igniting my gag reflex it struggles within itself as to
what kind of film it wants to be: sometimes it's a broad farce, other
times a dark comedy, and then sometimes a social/cultural satire.
I grew dizzy while watching this film pondering what the Coen
Brothers could have done with this material.
It's ultimately telling that MASTERMINDS was made in 2014 and saw its release delayed five times over the course the next two years. The film hasn't so much been released in cinemas now as it has been pretty unceremoniously abandoned by all involved, especially considering that virtually no one from the cast and crew are doing any press for it. MASTERMINDS is rather paradoxically named, seeing as very little creative intelligence went into its making.