Jared “Napoleon Dynamite” Hess’ caper comedy “Masterminds” carries what has to be the year’s most ironic title — it’s neither masterful nor mindful. More moronic than funny, it is by far the most frustrating movie I’ve watched in awhile, as Hess pulls off the impossible by egregiously wasting an A-list comedic ensemble of Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Jason Sudeikis, Owen Wilson and Leslie Jones on material that’s the equivalent of the diarrhea a character excretes into a swimming pool. Yes, folks, that is what passes for funny. No wonder why the studio shuffled the film’s release date three times. Never a good sign.
Shooting wrapped in 2014 — two years before this summer’s breakout of “Ghostbusters” gals Wiig, McKinnon and Jones, a trio whom the studio is clearly aiming to cash in on. But it’s hoping against hope.
The movie, from writers Chris Bowman and Hubbel Palmer, who penned next week’s not-screening-for-critics “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life,” and TV comedy scribe Emily Spivey (“SNL,” “King of the Hill”), is inspired by the 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery in North Carolina. It was dubbed the “Hillbilly Heist” because the gang made so many idiotic mistakes in emptying a vault containing $17 million.
Hess and his band of merry morons use the real-life crime as a jumping off point for their self-indulgent scatological humor. It is one cheap laugh grab after the next, and the audience I saw it with did LOL. From a premise standpoint, the movie is onto something, but the material is junk. It’s just a string of episodic bits in which the ensemble gets paired in sketches stretched out over the movie’s 90-minute runtime.
We first meet Galifianakis’ schlubby armored truck driver David Ghantt in voiceover, he’s telling us about his boring life. A spark goes off when the pretty Kelly Campbell (Wiig) also comes on board at Loomis Fargo. She uses her wiles to lure the doltish David into participating in the heist her co-conspirators have planned.
After a silly-but-promising early scene involving a mishap with a butt crack and firearm, the script basically separates the two for the rest of the movie, as David goes on the lam to Mexico with $20,000 cash stuffed into his tighty-whiteys. Stupid move. Galifianakis and Wiig had something brewing.
Wilson plays the alleged “brains” of the operation, a petty thief who steals wheelchairs from pediatric hospitals. Newly minted Emmy-winner McKinnon might do the best impression ever of Hillary Clinton, but here she’s another casualty, seemingly dropping in from another movie as David’s creepy fiancee. She’s got two highlights. The first is an amusing engagement photo session in which she and Galifianakis mug for the camera in silly poses. The second involves a cat fight with Wiig and vaginal cream. Sudeikis is an off-kilter hit man charged with tracking down David south of the border. Jones is the FBI agent investigating the theft. With a game cast like this, the movie definitely has a couple amusing spots. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut, right?
But overall, the effort is not cohesive. When the best part of the film is the era-appropriate clothing and props, you know you’re in trouble. It’s a hoot seeing those huge cordless phones popular in the mid-90s and Wiig’s character’s collection of acid-washed skirts paired with classic white Reebok high-tops.
This is the first movie Hess (“Nacho Libre”) has directed in which he didn’t have a hand in writing, and it never feels like he has a grip on the story he’s attempting to tell. And with this great cast, that amounts to a crime. But we end up serving the time.
— Dana Barbuto may be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Jason Sudeikis, Owen Wilson, Leslie Jones.
(PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, some language and violence.)