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Masterminds Movie Review

Masterminds (2016) movie poster Masterminds

Theatrical Release: September 30, 2016 / Running Time: 96 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Jared Hess / Writers: Emily Spivey, Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer (story & screenplay)

Cast: Zach Galifianakis (David Ghantt), Owen Wilson (Steve Chambers), Kristen Wiig (Kelly Campbell), Ken Marino (Doug Jeffcoat), Jason Sudeikis (Mike McKinney), Devin Ratray (Scott "Runny" Grant), Mary Elizabeth Ellis (Michelle Chambers), Kate McKinnon (Jandice), Leslie Jones (Detective Scanlon), Jon Daly (Detective Plewe), Karsten Friske (Cort Chambers), Dallas Edwards (Ken Chambers), Njema Williams (Ty), Daniel Zacapa (Quintero), Ross Kimball (Eric Payne)


Outside of M. Night Shyamalan, Jared Hess might have the saddest career arc in all of Hollywood. Like Shyamalan, success came early to Hess. His low-budget feature debut co-written with his wife Jerusha,
2004's Napoleon Dynamite, became wildly popular to a degree no other indie really ever has. After their major studio follow-up effort Nacho Libre failed to inspire the same passion, the Hesses have been a tale of diminishing returns, with subsequent projects Gentlemen Broncos and Don Verdean barely getting theatrical release.

Like Shyamalan did with The Last Airbender, Jared Hess has accepted the seemingly inevitable, taking a for-hire directing gig on Masterminds rather than building another comic universe from the ground up. This approach gives Hess the most star power he's had at his disposal. With Lorne Michaels as a producer and a screenplay by three young TV-seasoned up and comers, various in-demand comedy stars gladly signed up to work with the Utah-based Mormon filmmaker despite his spotty track record.

They did so back in the summer of 2014, when the film was shot. Then fledgling distributor Relativity Media since filed for bankruptcy, putting this and The Disappointments Room in release limbo. Delayed from August 2015 to October 2015, and eventually becoming the subject of a lawsuit by which Netflix sought to stream the film per their deal with Relativity, Masterminds finally sees the light of day in nearly 3,000 theaters today.

David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis) shows off the fruits of his labors, an armored truck holding $17 million in cash to Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig) and friends in "Masterminds."

Masterminds gives us a comic telling of the October 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery, in which a Charlotte, North Carolina bank had a little over $17 million stolen by a vault supervisor and some criminal associates.

Though he sports a ridiculous shoulder-length hairstyle, David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis) is a good guy and hard worker. Engaged to a woman (Kate McKinnon) he seems to be over, David's heart is truly revved by Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig), a blonde co-worker who gets herself fired to collect unemployment. Kelly and her friend Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson) hatch a plan to rob the bank using one of the armored vehicles that David drives. They pitch the plan to David that he'll do the robbing and then lay low in Mexico with a little bit of the loot, where Kelly will join him in time.

David clumsily pulls off the robbery, but as you can imagine, he doesn't end up with a sunny life of mai tais on the beach. Instead, Steve, whose identity is unknown to David other than the nickname "Geppetto", and his wife (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) begin treating themselves to braces, a mansion, and fancy new threads. Then, Steve decides David needs to take the fall for the heist, the second biggest executed on U.S. soil. When tipping off authorities doesn't work, he hires a hitman (Jason Sudeikis, giving the film's most amusing performance) to bump David off. Again, that is easier said than done.

Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson) and his wife Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) can't resist splurging on some new clothes and braces and a mansion with their stolen millions.

At its denim-laden, wood paneling-heavy start, Masterminds feels like a Hess movie, with badly-fashioned people behaving awkwardly. That fascination, which felt so fresh on Napoleon Dynamite, has evolved into a nauseating brand of unpleasant cinema. Fortunately, Hess has a true story and a screenplay touched by many but not him to use here.
Those tools, along with a game cast, elevate this several notches above the director's post-Napoleon fare. Masterminds never reaches the heights of satisfying, clever comedies, but nor does it plunge to the depths of, well, those other Hess movies and comparable trash. You kind of suspect it will, given the delays and the fact that shortly before shooting this, Wilson and Galifianakis collaborated on another dud with a funny SNL alumna in tow (Matthew Weiner's Are You Here). But Masterminds never gets bad enough to leave a sour taste in your mouth.

It's Galifianakis' show and though his star has waned since his scene-stealing breakout in The Hangover, he remains an appealing comic premise, a schlub who stays likeable even when he's being stupid or breaking bad. Wiig entertains as his disingenuous but sympathetic "love interest", while others from Leslie Jones (playing an FBI agent) to Ken Marino (playing a whistle-nosed neighbor asked to get a confession), chip in as needed.

The real story is fascinating enough that the writers haven't had to embellish it much and as far as cinematic crimes go, this one is as victimless and nonviolent as any. While it won't go down as anyone's favorite comedy of the year or do anything to boost the careers of its cast (though Hess may have a calling in for-hire work), Masterminds is a fairly harmless diversion.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Queen of Katwe The Dressmaker Storks Sully Deepwater Horizon The Magnificent Seven Bridget Jones's Baby
Directed by Jared Hess: Don Verdean Gentlemen Broncos
Zach Galifianakis: The Hangover Due Date Are You Here | Owen Wilson: Bottle Rocket The Wendell Baker Story
Kristen Wiig: Welcome to Me Girl Most Likely | Jason Sudeikis: Horrible Bosses We're the Millers Tumbledown

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Reviewed September 30, 2016.

Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2016 Relativity Studios, Surefire Entertainment Capital, Michaels/Goldwyn Productions. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.