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Masterminds Review

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Good-hearted rube David (Galifianakis) is convinced to steal a fortune. Soon he's on the run from the law and an eccentric hitman.

★★★★★

When armoured-car driver David Ghantt jacked $17.3 million from his employers back in 1997, he might have pondered whether one day his story would be turned into a tough Scorsese thriller. It’s less likely he’d have foreseen it becoming a goofy slapstick comedy, with wacky chases and lots of really, really bad wigs. That, thanks to Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess, is what is about to hit cinemas. It’s just a pity that the results are neither fish nor fowl: not exciting enough to enthrall as a crime story, nor funny enough to qualify as a sidesplitting night out.

Masterminds was originally conceived as a Jim Carrey vehicle called Loomis Fargo. Presumably there would have been limbs flying everywhere and impressions of emus. Instead, the film runs at a very different tempo, thanks to the drowsy, whacked-out energy of Zach Galifianakis. Adorned with a Farrah Fawcett hairdo and drawling things like, “Bonnie needs his Clyde”, his dull-witted desperado is fun, though not a million miles from what we’ve seen him do before. And Kate McKinnon is wonderful in a too-short turn as his mad-as-a-honey-badger wife, Jandice — it soon becomes clear why Paul Feig snapped her up to be one of his Ghostbusters.

The issue is that the movie doesn’t give either of them, or the rest of the cast, much in the way of decent material to work with. Kristen Wiig is particularly poorly served as the femme fatale who uses her wiles to draw David into the plot: until near the end, it’s hard to tell what she’s thinking or what her motivation could be. Owen Wilson, meanwhile, barely registers as the leader of the gang, his character oddly flat next to the larger-than-life creations elsewhere. The film strains in two different directions, half trying to stay true to its based-on-fact roots, half wanting to ditch all that and become a ridiculous farce.

When it embraces the absurdity, like an engagement-photo montage that spins out of control, or a memorable moment when Galifianakis gets into a fistfight with a moray eel, it gets big laughs. But there are too many dry patches with over-familiar crime-caper convolutions. The long middle stretch, in which David heads to Mexico to try to lie low after his heist, showcases an inspired array of terrible disguises — you certainly won’t see a funnier use of contact lenses in 2015 — but suffers from serious sag.

Jared Hess conjured up an entire world with his sweet, whimsical debut, Napoleon Dynamite. Since then, he’s struggled to make the same kind of impact. Hopefully he has another classic in him, but Masterminds is not it.

The film strains in two different directions, half trying to stay true to its based-on-fact roots, half wanting to ditch all that and become a ridiculous farce.