Masterminds (2016)

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“All I ever really wanted was adventure.”

Masterminds approaches comedy in a grounded, hunched over position, fumbling around for a light switch in the dark and mining for a toilet seat to lift for some bathroom humor. At least it tries to actually tell jokes. But it’s impossible to admire the effort when all of the laughs are coming from a quarry on the edge of collapse. These walls are braced with pokes and jabs at dimwitted Southerners, the dialogue is a running series of improvised malaprops, and the performances range from being monotonous to outright excessive. All the comedic talent up on the screen can’t buttress this one stop bookend before it buckles. Then again, Masterminds would read that sentence, make a butt joke, and happily die showered in an oblivion of its own waterfalling stupid.

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The film epitomizes the phrase “where to begin?” Should exposition be executed through voice over? Should characters be introduced in passing? Should a thin as rails framework lay the foundation before reminding us that this really is based on true events? Masterminds remains clueless throughout as to what answer is correct, circling D: all of the above. Normally I’d begrudgingly say that was fine in a lowbrow comedy such as this, but to execute each act and each sequence within the sum of its parts so consistently without thought is all too indecisive, as well as a pandering technique. Attempting to impart a pleasant aspect for every viewer only results in an all-around distasteful movie.

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David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis), a loyal employee for Loomis Fargo bank, seems impossible to describe. His hair cut is one that’s both business/party in the front and the back, a man of strict principle comfortable plopping his life in between both forks in the road. He’s about to marry Jandice (Kate McKinnon, again funny yet terrible when it comes to acting), and live out his life in a trailer park. Then Kelly (Kristen Wiig) becomes a coworker, and she steals his heart before convincing him to engage in a heist to steal millions. There’s an interesting dynamic behind this Bonnie & Clyde and Ocean’s Eleven thieving, but it’s just too demeaning to ever empathize with. Masterminds, I must admit, made me laugh – a walloping three times – at the cost of its characters. When they looked stupid, said dumb things, acted like imbeciles. Pointing a finger lacks subtlety, as well as the sense of exchanged respect you’d get from any over the counter transaction.

We see Owen Wilson doing an impression of his Bottle Rocket persona from so many years ago. Jason Sudeikis gets the most absurd character to work with; a hit-man with a teddy bear soft spot. Both are merely fine, as is the rest of the cast, in what amounts to a slight outing from all involved. Something was lost in translation here, because I could tell the script added up to a mediocre movie. Perhaps the blame falls on the shoulders of director Jared Hess. The performers are granted too much freedom, the material turns from backwoods interactions to outright fodder, and the jokes are thrown like a blind man playing darts; errantly, without intention, only scoring by mistake. Masterminds is as botched as the heist itself.

“I blame popular culture.”

Rating: 1 out of 5

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