Despite having an abundance of comic talent at it’s disposal, the latest film from Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre) is a drab and uninspired heist comedy which offers sporadic laughs but little in the way of originality. The most effective visual gag involves an adverse reaction to Mexican food in a swimming pool. This may give you a hint at the level of sophistication we’re talking about here.
The plot is inspired by the unlikely true story of the 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery, where a group of scatterbrained hicks from North Carolina managed to steal $17 million dollars from a vault. Zach Galifianakis plays David Ghantt, a charming dim wit who is cajoled into robbing his employers by ex-colleague and seductive temptress Kelly (Kristen Wiig). Unfortunately for David, the mastermind behind the crime Steve (Owen Wilson), is only interested in keeping the riches for himself. Kelly’s romantic advances are a facade and David is exploited as a pawn in an elaborate scheme. On the run in Mexico with an unhinged assassin (Jason Sudeikis) on his tail, David realises that he has been played and plots revenge on his conspirators.
While the entertaining story line has some momentum and Galifianakis gives a solid enough performance, this is ultimately another mediocre effort from Jared Hess. While his debut Napoleon Dynamite is almost perfect, Hess has struggled to find form ever since. Not that the lack of quality is necessarily his fault this time. He didn’t write the script. Most of the blame here lies with the six credited screenwriters who barely manage to muster a decent gag amongst them. Most of the laughs are generated via the on-form Galifianakis. His array of preposterous disguises are particularly effective, especially the one employed when he flees the U.S for Mexico which is aptly described as resembling, ‘if Jesus and a cat made a baby’. Three of the four female Ghostbusters feature in the supporting cast. Much like Paul Feig’s tepid reboot, they are let down by the paltry material. Kate McKinnon comes off best as Zach’s oddball fiancee Jandice, while Wiigg and Leslie Jones are competent but underwhelming in their respective roles. A-listers such as Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis and Jon Daly all make valiant attempts to inject some comic inspiration but too often the jokes fall flat.
Masterminds shows glimmers of Hess’s comedic sensibilities and Galifianakis is excellent in a role which was initially intended for Jim Carrey. Everything that’s good about the film stems from his performance and suggests that leading man potential is well within his capacity. Hopefully he’ll get another chance in a better film, because moments of genuine quality are too few and far between in this cinematic calamity.