Starring Zach Galifianakis and Kristen Wiig, “Masterminds” hits predictable comedy notes abreast mediocre writing. However, it is partially redeemed by one feature: many of the on-screen events are closely adapted from real life, specifically the 1997 Loomis Fargo Bank Robbery, nicknamed the “Hillbilly Heist.”
David Scott Ghantt (Galifianakis) really did steal $17.3 million from his employers in an armored van. He really did befriend the hit man sent to kill him, and he really did escape to Mexico while his co-conspirators lived large on the purloined money. With this kind of larger-than-life story, one would expect the movie to write itself. Perhaps, however, director Jared Hess — of “Napoleon Dynamite” fame — made a mistake in actually letting it do so.
Galifianakis sets the tone of the film early on, delivering slapstick comedy in a slow southern drawl, targeting stereotypical “hick” behavior. Although he is undoubtedly funny, Galifianakis bumbling through seemingly simple tasks is hardly a new role for the 47-year-old actor, and, by the third or fourth time in the movie, it had a rote quality to it.
Wiig plays the femme fatale Kelly Campbell, convincing Ghantt to commit the heist with some rudimentary seduction. Here, it feels that Wiig’s talent is wasted on her character, who does little more than listen obediently to gang leader Steve Chambers, played by Owen Wilson. Neither performance is poor, but both lack the material and charisma to lead a comedy.
Despite the underwhelming performance of the movie’s stars, however, the supporting cast turns in surprisingly funny performances. Leslie Jones plays an FBI investigator and draws laughs in a handful of her appearances. Kate McKinnon portrays Ghantt’s fiancee and is hilariously spacey, boasting an impressive deadpan mannerism. The real star of the show, however, is Jason Sudeikis as Mike McKinney, a hit man hired to take out David Ghantt. In a hilarious turn of events, the two become friends and allies, while Sudeikis easily becomes the most charismatic character of the film, somehow making the life of murdererseem charming.
The film’s shortcomings may arise from its tumultuous production history. Jim Carrey was originally cast as the lead, and it is easy to see where his manic intensity would have benefited the role. Carrey’s expressive body-acting would have offered more than Galifianakis’ stoic, deadpan delivery, likely serving to increase the absurdity that underscored the movie’s best moments.
Additionally, the movie was originally set to air last summer, but the film studio, Relativity Media, filed for bankruptcy, jeopardizing its possibility of release. A year later, it looks like it might have stagnated on the editing floor. Sharp moments of witty dialogue, highlighted by moments of visual comedy, shine brightly between cliche bank heist narratives and dry interludes.
One thing the movie does seem to get right is the visuals. The costumes are bright and attractive, and sets like the Mexican beach and the mansion are memorable. The “hick-chic” shared among the movie’s stars is a brilliant source of visual comedy. Galifianakis’ domestic costume, composed of laughably large shorts and either a uniform top or wife-beater tank, is contrasted by pastel vacation-wear and Wiig’s bleached high-waisted jeans. The costuming eventually becomes a running gag as Galifianakis attempts to disguise himself as he evades both INTERPOL and a hired gun, resulting in a series of increasingly absurd wigs.
Ultimately, “Masterminds” is a mixed bag. It does manage to draw laughs, but it ends up relying heavily on visual humor and actor charisma that is inconsistent at best. The supporting cast outshines the stars, though that may be a product of the inconsistent writing. Save this one for Netflix.