By Bill Wine
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The mastermind behind Masterminds is Jared Hess, best known for Napoleon Dynamite, the offbeat comedy that he co-wrote and directed.
But this heist comedy, based on a true story, serves us a heaping helping of stupidity for us to feel superior to.
Yep, that title is sarcastic.
The film focuses on an armored-car company in Charlotte, North Carolina, and what turns out to be, despite the plan’s deep flaws, one of the biggest cash robberies in American history, when, in 1997, over $17-million in cash is stolen from the regional office vault of Loomis, Fargo & Company by bored-out-of-his-mind armored-car driver David Scott Ghannt and several inept co-conspirators.
The others talk Ghannt, who is vulnerable because he’s tired of driving other people’s money around, into taking advantage of his access to the money.
And he joins them and pulls it off, but not before double-crosses and betrayals ensue and Ghannt finds himself on the run.
The crime is immediately dubbed the Hillbilly Heist, the thieves spend the loot on anything they want, and these geniuses are apprehended a few months later.
Zach Galifianakis plays Ghannt, with Kristen Wiig as thre woman he pines for, Owen Wilson as the planner of the robbery, Jason Sudeikis as a hit man later hired to do away with Ghannt’, Kate McKinnon as Ghannt’s fiancee, and Leslie Jones as the FBI agent assigned to the case.(With all these Saturday Night Live performers in the cast, it’s no surprise to learn that Lorne Michaels is one of the producers.)
Ghannt, scorned by the others, goes on the lam, and finds himself in a battle of wits with not only his partners in crime, but also the hit man and the authorities.
The performers in this cartoonish slapstick comedy are generally sharper than their material, especially Galifianakis, who not only handles the physical comedy with aplomb, but is not only sympathetic but downright touching at times.
But the film, originally titled Loomis Fargo, while pleasantly watchable, plays out harmlessly without building to anything beyond its surface premise. So it climbs Mount Zany but comes up short of the top.
Hess (Nacho Libre, Gentlemen Broncos, Don Verdean) works from a pulling-in-two-directions, loosely-based-on-the-facts screenplay by Chris Bowman, Emily Spivey, and Hubbel Palmer that can’t quite make up its mind about whether it’s essentially a comedy or a crime caper thriller.
It works mainly as a showcase for the cast, who get laughs in the spots they try to, but who don’t exactly jump off the page.
So we’ll steal 2 stars out of 4 for Masterminds, which doesn’t quite steal your time, but misses about as often as it hits. Put it this way: The more you relish competently mounted slapstick, the less you’ll mind and the more you’ll smile. But actual laughter will be in short supply.