In 1997, an employee of the Loomis Fargo security company pulled off one of biggest heists in the history of the U.S., and by himself at that. Given our endless fascination with true crime stories, it’s easy to imagine a grim and gritty thriller that follows the aftermath as the participants try to stay ahead of the law. Finally seeing its release after over a year’s delay due to the bankruptcy of Relativity Media, “Masterminds” is… not quite that. Attempting to be more of a “Fargo”-esque comedy about incompetent criminals, the film aspires to be like the “Anchorman” of this mix but falls far too short of that goal.
Zach Galifianakis, introduced sporting a Prince Valiant hairstyle that the filmmakers must’ve assumed would get instant laughs (it didn’t), plays robber David Ghantt, a North Carolina armored truck driver in a bit of a happy-dead-end (including an impending marriage to Kate McKinnon’s Jandice). At the urging of Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig) and her friend Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson), Ghantt steals almost $17 million from his employees and absconds off to Mexico, awaiting both Campbell and the rest of his money.
And that’s basically it. For a film focused so much on a robbery, “Masterminds” spends very little time on the actual process, instead showing the aftermath of the robbery and the various ways that Ghanttt is screwed over before finally getting wise. This wouldn’t be that big of a problem if the screenwriters (Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer and Emily Spivey) had bothered to give any of the characters personality beyond the broadest characteristics. In particular, the film seems to treat Ghantt as an idiot and to his credit, Galifianakis commits wholeheartedly to the performance.
The rest of the cast also does well with their parts: McKinnon and Leslie Jones (FBI Special Agent Scanlon), hot off the heels of their breakouts on “Ghostbusters” despite this filming before that, make the most of their meager screentime. The former especially leans wholeheartedly into the weird and unsettling nature of her character, giving shades of the zany comedy it so wants to be. Jones unfortunately gets a lot of jokes about how masculine and unladylike she looks, but at least manages to play a law enforcement officer with enough humor to suggest future movie roles. In fact, the only true blind spot is Jason Sudeikis as an assassin; at first coming off a touch unusual, he soon overstays his welcome and becomes grating on the whole film.
“Masterminds” as a whole features the detailed, retro-kitsch production design director Jared Hess is known for. His classic “Napoleon Dynamite,” while polarizing, had enough sweet moments and memorable lines to forgive the thin plotting and broad characterizations. He’s left with none of that here, instead resorting to gross-out gags and props that are funny for one second before becoming tiring. At its best, the film leans into “Anchorman”-style surreal jokes and gets off a few good lines. At its worst, it feels like a disparate mix of the aforementioned films and Wes Anderson that feels much longer than a 94-minute film should. “Masterminds” is not as terrible as it could’ve been, but it zips past the good parts and leaves us stranded with things that only appear to be funny.