Mark Reviews Movies

Masterminds (2016)


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jared Hess

Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Devin Ratray, Jon Daly, Ken Marino

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual humor, some language and violence)

Running Time: 1:34

Release Date: 9/30/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 30, 2016

The only thing dumber than the protagonist of Masterminds is his luck. This is a story—more or less based on a true one, mind you—in which our blundering hero is caught by a co-worker in the act of stealing $17 million from the vault of the cash-handling company for which he works. The door to the vault is wide open. Our man is standing and hiding behind the back doors of a company van, into which he moved most of the cash. His co-worker sees this and, instead of thinking the obvious, believes that the guy is working overtime. This is the kind of good fortune that can only be provided by blind, uncaring chance.

It's also the result of another thing: David (Zach Galifianakis), the robber, is as nice as he is dumb. Maybe he's simply too nice, and that makes him seem dumb. There's a lot of that going around in David's exploits, whether he's falling for the transparent wiles of a trailer park femme fatale or getting engaged to a woman who was in love with his distant cousin.

His fiancée tells the story of how they met—her and the cousin, not her and David. The cousin died, and that story gets to how she first spotted her current beau at her deceased lover's funeral. She explains her thought process: "I'll take the live one." David is fine with being "the other one" because, we have to assume, it's the nice thing to be and do. He just cannot help it.

This almost tragic quality brings with it a lot for David as a protagonist. He isn't the brightest bulb, the sharpest tool, or even the quickest draw in the trailer park, but he possesses a level of decency that puts him in an entirely different class of person from the rest of this bunch of characters. After accidentally pricking the breast of his dream woman with the roses he bought her, he notices some blood. He wonders aloud why it isn't milk coming out of the wound, but he never realizes the error of his thought process because he's too busy apologizing for asking something so ungentlemanly.

The woman is Kelly (Kristen Wiig), who works at the cash handling company where she and David deliver money to banks in an armored truck. She's fired and gets in with a bad crowd in a "double-wide high-rise" (perhaps the only phrase to describe a double-wide trailer elevated on towers of bricks).

Steve (Owen Wilson) has dreams of wealth that exceed everything about him. After hearing about a guy who stole millions of dollars from Kelly's former employer, he comes up with a plan: use David to get the money from the vault, take said money, and send David to Mexico so that Steve and his cohorts can spend all the cash while the feds look for David. Kelly lures him into the plan with the kind of flirtation that could only work on a guy like poor, gullible David.

Despite its real-life basis, this is a comedy built on the broadest of broad strokes. Its jokes run the gamut of prominent caricatures, exaggerated physical comedy, and plain old gross-out gags (e.g., eating a tarantula and a bathroom emergency in a hotel swimming pool). In every mode, these jokes are hit-or-miss.

The character-oriented humor of the screenplay (written by Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer, and Emily Spivey) works more often than it should, if only because the cast members are willing to make fools of themselves. Galifianakis, of course, has built his career on playing characters like David, whose awkwardness is exponentially pronounced on account of his complete lack of self-awareness. Wiig pulls off a neat trick of making Kelly appealing, conniving, and conscience-stricken, while Wilson plays it relatively straight as a guy who's just dopey enough to ignore advice he has given just 20 minutes prior.

Kate McKinnon, playing David's quietly maniacal fiancée, gets a lot of comic mileage out of her brief role, simply by way of minor inflections on a monotone voice (Note the way she emphasizes "other" when referring to David, making it sound equal parts dismissive and venomous). Jason Sudeikis shows up as an affable assassin who doesn't realize the unlikely coincidence that David, who's using a borrowed identity in Mexico, has the same name, birthdate, and place of birth as himself.

The rest of the jokes miss more often, and that's mainly on account of their seeming randomness or because they push the characters further than necessary. These characters are dim enough, without the inclusion of David's cheap disguises, and rough enough, without an odd chase scene in which the hitman hurls a spear at his target or a fight between the two women who don't care for David that much in the first place.

There are plenty of times when feels as if the screenplay and director Jared Hess don't trust the inherent strangeness of this story and the already-inflated personalities of these characters. Masterminds piles a few too many additional and arbitrary oddities into the mix. It feels as if there's too much constantly being added to the too-much that's in this material from the start. One level of that is fine enough, thank you very much.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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