Typically when a movie is delayed well over a year and released in the dumping grounds of late September, it’s pretty much a sign that the powers that be behind the film have no confidence in its quality and are just looking to quietly release it into the ether. Masterminds, the latest film from Jared Hess, the director of Napoleon Dynamite and last year’s abysmal Don Verdean, was delayed multiple times, but not due to any concerns about the film’s quality. Masterminds was subject to a lengthy delay in release because its studio, Relativity, went bankrupt. Now in the clear, Relativity is set to release Masterminds, and, amazingly, it’s a surprising piece of comedy filmmaking featuring a talented cast working at the top of their game.
Masterminds tells the true story of the 1997 Loomis, Fargo & Co. heist, one of the largest cash robberies in American history, through the lens of absurdist comedy. David Ghantt (Zack Galifianakis) is an armored car driver and is seemingly content with his modest life in North Carolina. He’s due to be wed to his girlfriend Jandice (Kate McKinnon), though his impending union is somewhat complicated by his growing feelings for his co-worker Kelly (Kristen Wiig). Shortly after Kelly is fired, she starts hanging out with Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson) and his wife Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Ellis). When the local news runs a story about a massive cash heist from an establishment like Loomis, Fargo & Co., Steve gets the idea that Kelly should use her sexual leverage over David in order to pull off a massive heist of Kelly’s former employer. Without much thought, David agrees and robs his employer of upwards of $17 million.
There’s no honor among thieves as David flees to Mexico where he expects Kelly to meet him, but while in hiding south of the border Steve keeps the money and begins living a lavish lifestyle previously unimaginable for his white trash existence. Meanwhile, the robbery is being investigated by two FBI agents (Leslie Jones and Jon Daly), piecing together the clues. Matters are even more complicated when Steve hires Mike McKinney (Jason Sudeikis) to murder David down south, so Steve can keep the loot all for himself.
Each and every character of Masterminds is an incredible dope. If you injected any of the dumbest criminals from classic Coen Brothers movies into Masterminds, they’d immediately be the smartest characters on the screen. The immensely talented comedic cast of Masterminds are what keeps the movie so ridiculously entertaining, with every one of its stars giving incredibly dedicated performances. Galifianakis is hilarious as the inept David Ghantt, sometimes donning some amazingly absurd disguising while in seclusion in Mexico. As the film’s lead, Galifianakis brings his A-game to every scene and elevates the performances of whomever he’s sharing the screen with. The exchanges between Galfianakis and Sudeikis are some of the film’s majestically stupid highlights. Even in a very subdued role, Kate McKinnon builds upon her star making performance in Ghostbusters with a funny and bizarre role as Ghantt’s fiancé.
Masterminds is really a return to form for Hess, who has had a string of underwhelming efforts following the success of Napoleon Dynamite. The director is greatly helped by the script from Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer, and Emily Spivey that keep the movie full of incredibly stupid humor and devious double crosses. Sometimes Hess’ direction is fairly simplistic for broad comedy, but there are moments where the director works with cinematographer Erik Wilson to craft some impressive visuals that add another layer of intrigue to moronic masterminds at work. Masterminds works at such a brisk pace that it never really has a chance to wallow in some of its more underwhelming scenes – if a line doesn’t land there’s a pratfall or gag that will overshadow the misses.
The great cast of Masterminds makes this a comedy overflowing with delightful dopes engaged in criminal incompetence. For just under 90 minutes, Masterminds assaults you with moronic action after moronic action as Jared Hess revels in the asinine aspects of this ridiculous true story. It can be tough to be surrounded by idiots for 90 minutes, but with Masterminds it’s a hilarious pleasure.
A comedy of error with some of the dumbest criminals to ever grace the screen, Masterminds is a hilarious return to form for director Jared Hess.