Reviews

You Can Almost Feel the Desperation of Everyone Involved With ‘Masterminds’

Zach Galifianakis and Kristen Wiig in Masterminds (2016)

Jared Hess’s snoozefest is a comedic black hole from which laughter cannot escape.


Masterminds

Director: Jared Hess
Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Jason Sudeikis
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Studio: Relativity Media
Year: 2016
UK Release Date: TBD
US Release Date: 2016-09-30 (Wide)
Website
Trailer

“How can such a funny cast make a movie with absolutely no laughs?” That’s the question you’ll be asking yourself throughout the entirety of Jared Hess’s new snoozefest, Masterminds. It’s almost unfathomable that 2016 could produce a worse comedy than Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, but Masterminds beats that movie up and steals its lunch money.

This movie is worse than unfunny; it’s a comedic black hole from which laughter cannot escape. If the characters from Pain & Gain were too intelligent for your taste, this might be the movie for you. Otherwise, you should avoid this stinker like a State Fair chemical toilet.

To its credit, the premise for Masterminds isn’t terrible. In 1997, the fledgling cash handling company, Loomis Fargo, was robbed of over $35 million by two of its own armored car drivers. The first, Phillip Johnson, cleaned out the truck he was driving for over $18 million. The second, and the inspiration for Masterminds, was a North Carolina bumpkin named David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis), who made off with a cool $17.3 million. “The Hillbilly Heist”, as it came to be known by the locals, involved Ghantt and several co-conspirators who probably couldn’t tie their own shoelaces, let alone coordinate what was technically a bank robbery.

The story begins just prior to the robbery, as David falls under the spell of his sexy new partner, Kelly (Kristen Wiig). They spend their days fantasizing about robbing Loomis, ostensibly, to get back at a system that requires reading and writing for advancement. Our story’s comedic intentions are made clear when David accidentally shoots himself in the butt crack. Saying Masterminds is a monument to potty humor is an insult to both humor and potties.

A pairing of Wiig and Galifianakis has the potential for comic sparks, but the story separates them for much of the film’s running time. In fact, Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Don Verdean) and his screenwriters never give their gifted actors a chance to play off each other. If the success of Judd Apatow and his disciples (chief amongst them, Seth Rogen) has proven anything, it’s that ‘rehearsed’ improvisation can propel an average story to hilarious heights. There's shockingly little improvisation here, which effectively stifles the creativity of the cast. Wiig gets to improvise a “titillating” striptease in order to provoke a sexual harassment dismissal from her boss, but otherwise, each character is forced to play by the rules of their boring script.

Worse still, there's a ton of plot bogging down every grudging step of Masterminds. First, we meet Dave’s peculiar fiancée (Kate McKinnon), who seems to be living in some parallel universe to The Stepford Wives. Next, we tangle with the criminal ring leader, Steve (Owen Wilson), who proves that in the land of pinheads, the man with half a brain will be king (you can insert your own Donald Trump joke right here). Leslie Jones plays a no-nonsense detective assigned to the robbery, but she’s given absolutely nothing to work with. Finally, there's a hitman named Mike (Jason Sudeikis) who enjoys killing his victims with knives so he can feel their life force draining away. Yeah… funny stuff.

None of these wacky characters contribute anything interesting to the proceedings, with the possible exception of Sudeikis. Not only does he deliver the film’s only funny line (which occurs on the last line of dialogue before the closing credits!), his creepy hitman is so jarring -- so out of place -- that it almost injects some life into this cadaver. Unfortunately, like some kind of comedic blow-up doll, Masterminds is content to just lie on the screen with a stupid look on its face.

You can almost feel the desperation of everyone involved with this film. Galifianakis is game for anything, including eating a dead tarantula (who knew tarantulas were filled with caramel syrup?), and having explosive diarrhea in a public swimming pool (who knew Zach Galifianakis was filled with caramel syrup?). Mostly, he just walks around looking like a reject from the Allman Brothers Band and sounding like Forrest Gump’s understudy.

Poor Kristen Wiig is forced to play second fiddle to her own cleavage. It looks as though she’s waiting for someone to feed her a funny line of dialogue, but it never comes. Owen Wilson’s role could have been played by anyone, as his characteristic smarm is scaled back to the point of non-existence. The producers could have saved big money by casting first-timers in these nondescript roles, sparing such recognizable actors the pain and humiliation of having their talents squandered.

Therein lays the ultimate sin of Masterminds; leveraging the name recognition of gifted comedians for one weekend of profit, rather than depositing this cinematic bolus directly to VOD where it belongs. It’s not a crime to make a terrible movie -- it happens all the time and with the best of intentions -- but rolling this abysmal film into theaters feels like a cynical bait-and-switch. All of these actors and filmmakers will do better work in the future, but Masterminds won’t be on the top of anyone’s résumé.

1

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image