Masterminds and all the images you see in this review are owned by Relativity Media
Directed by Jared Hess
Oh hey, I remember this guy! Didn’t he do Napoleon Dynamite like a hundred years ago? Okay, maybe it wasn’t THAT long ago, but you can hardly say that he’s had a sterling career since then with Nacho Libre and Gentleman Broncos being poor follow ups to his breakout hit. Still, this one seems to be outside of his comfort zone, what with how many A-list comedians are on hand and the general tone of the film from the trailers, so maybe stretching himself as an artist will do him some good and he can wow us all once again with his immense talent! Hey, it’s POSSIBLE… right? Is this movie one of the standout comedies of the year that will remind us why we liked Jared Hess in the first place, or is this yet more proof that the dude peaked with his first film? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows lovable David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis) who’s living the pathetic loser life in his shitty little town where no one respects him or even likes him all that much; even his fiancée (Kate McKinnon), but then she’s so cartoonishly off-putting that it’s hard to tell if she’s feeling anything at all. The dude seems perfectly fine to let things go this way and live out his life as a security guard for Loomis Fargo and have zero impact on the rest of the world. That is… until SHE came through the door. Kelly (Kristen Wigg) becomes a coworker of David’s and the two hit it off immediately, by which I mean he develops a massive crush on her and she gets her ass fired before she has a chance to really capitalize on it. Eventually though, she does come back into his life, only now she has someone with her. Steven Chambers (Owen Wilson) wants to use David to rob Loomis Fargo and plans on using his clear obsession with Kelly to get him to do it. Needless to say that David promptly agrees for that exact reason, and surprisingly the heist seems to work at first! They walk away with SEVENTEEN MILLION DOLLARS, David goes to Mexico while the heat dies down, and everyone else (including Kelly) for some reason stay in their shitty little town and try to lay low there. As with most crime movies though, things start to unravel, especially when FBI agents (Leslie Jones and Jon Daly) start to investigate those involved and a hit man (Jason Sudeikis) winds up in the mix. Will David get away with his crime and have all the money he could ever want? Will Kelly be able to save David from Steven who’s hell bent on keeping him out of their way permanently? How the hell did this stupid mother fucker get through airport security!?
This movie is flat, uninspired, and not even a little bit funny. It didn’t elicit any rage from me like Dirty Grandpa or Mother’s Day, but that’s only because I felt nothing while watching it. Nothing for any of the characters, nothing for the story, and certainly nothing for the humor they were going for. It just feels so… lacking in everything that’s important for a Dumb Ass Criminal movie to work; not to mention that the phenomenal cast in here feels wasted, even the ones who get plenty of screen time. It doesn’t feel as cynically made as something like Storks, but it lacks any sense of ambition or a strong artistic voice. Usually a comedy can get by with a weak script if the cast is up to the challenge, but this is the exception that proves the rule as there’s no salvaging the passionless direction and lifeless script; even if three fourths of the Ghostbusters are in this. HOW DO YOU FUCK THAT UP!?
The most subjective part of any comedy is the humor which I didn’t find even the slightest bit funny in here but the audience was eating it up… somehow. In general, what do you need for a comedy like this to work? Well first, we need to figure out what it wants to be. Now this is a BASED ON A TRUE STORY (ugh…) crime film with Jared Hess in the directing chair. Clearly, the goal here was to find the humor in the dichotomy between crime in movies and a real life version of such events with the TRUE STORY elements lending authenticity to the goings on, and we see examples of this in the trailer such as when the car doesn’t crash through the gate as it would in any other movie. Plus, throw in Jared Hess’s supposed mastery of translating real life pathetic people into comedy gold (Tim and Eric do it better), and it’s clear that they want Pain and Gain by way of Youth in Revolt. Does it achieve that goal? In my opinion, it does not. The crime itself is not all that interesting, nor are the individuals committing them as they’re basically just white trash assholes who lucked their way into a big score. One of the things that made Napoleon Dynamite work are its which aren’t always LIKABLE, but manage to be charming and well developed in their own unassuming way. Here though? The characters are flat and meaningless (or in the case of Jason Sudeikis, inexplicable in everything that they do), and there’s no real humanity beneath any of the performances here as they’re all about telling jokes and acting WACKY.
So if the humor doesn’t work in the slightest for me, what about the criminal elements? What about the story of a man who spent his whole life doing nothing special being thrown into this bigger than life story? Eh… it’s not that much better than the humor to be honest. There are brief moments in here where the movie shines as the danger and real consequences of this heist come across, and it’s effective whenever they go down that route. Unfortunately, that’s maybe three or four times in here and the rest is just goofiness which undercuts whatever drama could have been injected into this story. David just isn’t a very interesting character and it’s hard to care one way or the other for whatever happens to him. Compare this to Daniel Lugo from Pain and Gain who’s infinitely watchable and compelling while also being one of the worst scumbags to ever grace the silver screen. There were plenty of goofy moments and shenanigans in that movie, but they were complemented by Mark Wahlberg’s (as well as Anthony Mackie’s and Dwayne Johnson’s) performance and Michael Bay’s fantastic direction. There’s no giddy thrill or stakes involved with the robbery and the subsequent wealth the characters come into because, as I said, these are white trash mother fuckers and they don’t have any real plans for the money. Nothing about these people really changes or becomes any more interesting once they’re rich. They just buy a bunch of tacky shit and don’t develop in any significant way from the flat characters they were before they got the money. Maybe that’s the point and it goes back to this not being a glamorous portrayal of a life of crime, but there has to be SOMETHING for me to invest in!
As far as positives, there really aren’t a whole lot to discuss here. Even though the cast had NOTHING to work with, I got some enjoyment out of Leslie Jones as the FBI agent and I though Jason Sudeikis threw himself into his useless role enough to come out of this okay. Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon are pretty disappointing as the former isn’t a very compelling character outside of being the impetus for David’s turn to the dark side and the latter being a caricature with no real purpose to the story at all. Still, I thought they were fine in the awful roles they were given, and there’s a fight between them at some point that MIGHT be the highlight of the movie. Everyone else like Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, and even Mary Elizabeth Ellis (who you may know as the waitress from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) just feels like they’re going through the motions of a subpar script; though Galifianakis’s character has the most variety in terms of stuff the script asks him to do, so he at least has somewhat of an arc even if his performance is one note. That’s about it for the good stuff, but I’ll at least give it credit for not trying to be offensive or for having any truly awful jokes in here. It was at a subpar level all the way through, but at least it didn’t dip into outright awfulness like so many other bad comedies try to do when they don’t have any good material to work with. I appreciate the restraint this movie had in not going into offensive or even all that gross territory which wouldn’t have helped this movie in the slightest.
What this film lacks is a vision. Well… a vision and a solid SCRIPT, but the lack of a real point to all this is probably the biggest of the two issues here as someone could have taken this story and said something with it. John Waters could have knocked this out of the park by making the main characters much more endearing, Michael Bay ALREADY knocked it out of the park with his uncomfortable look into the worst that our culture can produce (and showing it to us with all the glee of a carnival freak show announcer), and even Richard Linklater found a novel way to blend horrible crime with real life absurdity in his film Bernie from a few years ago. Jared Hess just didn’t seem to have a plan here other than to make things awkward and silly, and that’s just not enough to keep this from being completely dull and entirely pointless. Skip this movie and watch ANY of the other crime movies I just listed instead. Hell, go watch Napoleon Dynamite again and be reminded when everyone thought Jared Hess was going to be the next big name in comedy! Those days were nice, weren’t they?
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