Release Date: September 30, 2016
Studio: Relativity Media
Director: Jared Hess
Release Format: Theatrical
It takes a great deal of talent (or lack thereof) to strand a talented cast in a sea of humorless waters without a paddle. Masterminds, the latest film from director Jared Hess, manages to do exactly that. Several comedic talents such as Kristin Wiig and Owen Wilson are limited to the confines of characters that are too stupid to be remotely identifiable. Considering this film is based on a true story, the overabundance of absurdity renders all factuality mute. The “humor” in its place is not only childish; it’s relentlessly broad and one-note.
Zach Galifianakis, sporting an outlandish yokel accent, is the actor tasked with carrying the bulk of Masterminds. His character, David, works for an armored vehicle company and hopes to escape the mundanity of everyday life. He gets his chance when he’s convinced by co-worker Kelly (Kristin Wiig) and her friend Steve (Owen Wilson) to orchestrate a vault robbery. They (namely David) succeed in taking the money but David accidentally leaves one of the security cameras functional. David skips to Mexico and the hijinks escalate from there.
The biggest problem that has plagued Hess’s brand of comedy is that he all too often resorts to being weird for the sake of it. Not only that, he frequently mistakes being awkward as a means of endearment. All of the characters in Masterminds are admittedly not the sharpest tools in the drawer. In a way, the fact that David even remotely succeeded is due to sheer luck and human error. Hess reduces the characters from dumb criminals to a reincarnation of The Three Stooges. The overreliance on slapstick, while it is occasionally chuckle-inducing, becomes monotonous after the fifth or so instance.
Rather than focusing on the mechanics of the heist and the subsequent aftermath, Hess and co. are more preoccupied with showcasing crazy wardrobes and caricatures. Galifianakis’s character, although he is the protagonist, is by far the least compelling. Sporting a ridiculous mullet/bang combination, David is too much of a dimwitted pushover to be sympathetic. When he’s not being mistreated by those around him, he’s embarrassed by a stunt or repulsive gag. One of which, involving defecation inside a pool, was so low-brow it was astonishing. Then again, what else should you expect out of Jared Hess? This is the same director who gave a snake explosive diarrhea in Gentlemen Broncos.
More than a decade has passed since Hess released his breakthrough cult classic Napoleon Dynamite. Since then, his directorial wheelhouse has failed to significantly improve. Masterminds is chock full of static camera movement and minimal stylistic flourishes. If anything, it’s a step back from his criticism as being a “Wes Anderson imitator.” The presence of Owen Wilson inside this caper comedy can certainly be read as Hess’s tribute to Anderson’s Bottle Rocket. Wilson’s character is the brains of the operation almost by default. The script frequently calls for Wilson to monologue aimlessly through speeches without any humor or resonance.
While most of the cast is hamstrung by script limitations, a few performances do manage to rise above the material. Kate McKinnon, who plays David’s fiancé, is funny to the point where she cannot help it. Her bizarre line delivery and mannerisms just seem to mesh with the oddities in a Jared Hess film universe. Like many of her co-stars, she is reduced to a series of contextually gross scenes. Whether it’s a catfight with Kristin Wiig using yeast infection cream or farting in David’s face, McKinnon is largely wasted. Even Leslie Jones, who is ironically the 3rd Ghostbusters star to appear in the film, is stuck in a thankless role as the FBI agent hot on their trail. Both she and McKinnon are also given far less screen time than their co-stars, which proves that less is more in the case of Masterminds.
At a runtime of less than 90 minutes, Masterminds does not produce the laughs necessary enough to maintain momentum. Granted, there are one of two moments that did result in genuine belly laughs. Both of which stem from Jason Sudeikis as a hitman who is straight out of a Roger Moore James Bond film. Much like McKinnon, Sudeikis is an actor who can squeeze laughter out of the driest scripts. He fully embraces the absurdity of this world and the standout scene involves a bathroom interrogation. Less is more in the case of what works in this film and returns diminish the more that Sudeikis’s hitman appears.
For a film that provides little laughs, it was almost insulting to see a hilarious gag reel right before the closing credits. That humor doesn’t translate into the finished product. The film offers no surprises or major plot twists to shake up the story. Masterminds makes no attempt to add anything new to the heist film. Instead, it opts to steal time and money from those who choose to see it.
- Jason Sudeikis
- One or Two Inspired Jokes
- Too Much Absurdity
- Characters are Broadly Written
- Jared Hess's Tendency for Gross Out Jokes