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It’s no secret that Kristen Wiig is basically a national treasure at this point. After creating some of the funniest and most influential characters on Saturday Night Live, she has taken to the movies and revealed she is as adept in drama as she is with comedy. That said, getting laughs is what she does best and has yet to deliver anything but one memorable performance after another, even when the film she stars in falls lower than expected. With Masterminds, an ensemble film that brings together a few other SNL alumni and more, she remains in top form despite nearly everything else landing with a thud.
David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis) works with great loyalty at Loomis Fargo as an armored car driver and guard. He’s a bit of an eccentric, with a girl’s pageboy haircut and scruffy beard, tight shorts and a genuine lack of common sense. He’s engaged to Jandice (Kate McKinnon) but monumentally infatuated with co-worker Kelly Campbell (Wiig), who knows well enough that he is, but doesn’t do much to stop it. She has a friend Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson), a thief who believes Kelly is the inside man, so to speak, in getting his hands on a truckload of cash, literally. Kelly is persuaded and goes on the sly to trick David into outright robbing seventeen million dollars from Loomis, making David believe she is sweet on him.
When things sort of go off without a hitch, David is made the face of the crime and they give him some cash to hide out in Mexico, but Steve decides to make sure there’s no chance David will ever point the finger at him, hiring a hitman (Jason Sudeikis) to hunt him down and close the book on him for good. Naturally, everyone is inept and nothing goes as planned, including the FBI, led by Leslie Jones.
Directed by Jared Hess, who is no stranger to quirky comedies with Napoleon Dynamite perhaps his best known, Masterminds is a hard film to nail down. Based on a real event, the broad strokes it takes in turning it into a Coen-esque comedy odyssey with an SNL flair make for a strange mix as the film plays host to a number of colorful characters who are all trapped in a world with little to do.
Given the talent in front of the camera, this should be far funnier than it is. Several moments start strong but are written into a corner and fizzle out of energy well before they should, including a long scene with Sudeikis and an old Mexican musket gun that ends with him frolicking in the ocean with Galifianakis. There’s also most every scene with McKinnon, who is a feircely funny woman in a part that is woefully underwritten, even though she goes for every laugh she can with absolute abandon. Owen is right in his wheelhouse as well, and has a few solid moments, but is ultimately let down by a script that can’t take him or the rest to the next level. At every turn there are gobs of potential that feel frustratingly unexploited.
Masterminds is not a disaster. There are some inspired moments that find their mark. Wiig is really good, giving Kelly an affecting layer of sincerity, and yet it’s because of this where the film reveals its biggest flaw. Like any caper in this genre, those that work don’t do so because of the pratfalls and absurdity, but rather the humanity behind them. If the comedy doesn’t feel earned, then no one is going to connect. Many moments in Masterminds feel stagey, designed more for the quick visual than for the sake of the story and this ultimately leaves what could have been one of the decades sharpest comedies dull and forgettable.
Director: Jared Hess
Writers: Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer
Stars: Kristen Wiig, Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kate McKinnon