A film critic colleague of mine made the apt observation that Masterminds is one of those rare comedies funnier than what you see in the trailer. I would further add that the trailer is a little misleading in that it could be seen to hint that the contents of Jared Hess’ 90-minute film could be racier than they actually are, but that is not necessarily a bad thing because it is even rarer to find a popular comedy the entire family can watch.
The premise of this Zach Galifinakis vehicle is based on an actual 1997 armored heist in Charlotte where those part of the inside job made off with $17.3 million before their newfound opulence was their undoing.
Masterminds sticks to those beats but adds a subplot of a wacky assassin tracking down the fall guy on the run before an inevitable showdown between the dishonorable thieves, all the while weaving in some slapstick giggles and some jabs at the Carolina rubes within its brief running time.
Galifinakis looks a little old under his Prince Valiant wig, but to his credit he doesn’t rely too much on appearances to make the audience laugh. Kristen Wiig is adequate in her role, though I still don’t understand why Galifinakis’ character (or the audience, for that matter) views her as a temptress. Owen Wilson is perfect as a zubaz-pants wearing petty thief, though Jason Sudekis does chew the scenery a bit as a psychotic hitman with a penchant for sunglasses.
The real bright spots are in the supporting cast. Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones shine in their smaller roles as a dimwitted fiancé and a stern FBI agent, and Comedy Central mainstays Jon Daly, Mary Elizabeth Ellis and Ken Marino do the best with the brief material they are given.
What really makes Masterminds work is how it restrains most of its actors rather than let them take the material into gratuitous or offensive territory as many lesser films could and often do easily veer. There’s only one instance of scatological humor, and though the slapstick is often telegraphed it did have the majority of the audience I saw it with laughing out loud. It’s the kind of filmmaking one expects from the director of Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre and is refreshing to see on the big screen.
Masterminds was filmed two years ago in Asheville, N.C., with the tourist town serving as a surrogate for the Queen City, but its release was delayed after the production company went bankrupt. I don’t think the movie suffered any from the delay, though some viewers may be gun shy about buying a ticket after the totally average version of Ghostbusters reunited Wiig, McKinnon and Jones.
If that is the case for you, feel free to wait for its eventual arrival on DVD, streaming services or even cable. Hopefully, it won’t be compromised by an unnecessary “unrated and expanded edition,” that would only undermine the almost wholesome endeavor that has the taste of the Carolinas tickling your ribs.
Written and Directed by Jared Hess
MPAA rating: PG-13 for one poop joke and slapstick violence
Celluloid Scoreboard: B+: Always good to see the home state on screen, even if the comedy is somewhat sanitized for your protection.