In 2004, a quirky little indie comedy took the world by storm in the form of Napoleon Dynamite. The film, about an akward teenager's misadventures in a small town school, quickly became a pop culture phenomenon. A few years ago, director Jared Hess assembled a cast of popular Hollywood comedians to bring to the screen an outlandish take on a true story from 1997: the robbing of Loomis Fargo. It was the second biggest cash haul in U.S. history, with a group of thieves taking $17 million dollars worth of cash. The movie went through a few title changes over the years, and changed production company hands, getting its release delayed in the process, but finally earned a release to the public in late 2016 through 20th Century Fox. Masterminds debuted to mixed reception, but those who enjoy quirky, silly comedy will most likely find this movie right up their alley.
Zach Galifianakis leads this bunch of goofy characters as a bored Loomis Fargo employee, named David Ghantt, on the verge of marrying into a family he's not too excited about either. He then meets Kristen Wiig's Kelly Campbell, a fellow employee who has a slightly more mischievous side to her. After she leaves her job, she falls into the wrong crowd with a man named Steve, played by Owen Wilson, and his gang who encourage Kelly to figure out a way to rob her previous place of employment. She uses David's attraction to her to lure him into their devious plan, and the robbery is soon underway. Hess's direction is frantic but frequently appropriately funny. You wouldn't necessarily guess that this is the same director as Napoleon Dynamite, but there are hints of his fingerprints on the style of the film.
Admittedly, I haven't seen Zach Galifianakis in many films; most of his roles these days are in lewd R-rated comedies, like The Hangover, which I avoid, so I think the only real role I've seen him in prior to this one is G-Force (yikes!). I thought Zach was great in this. He really played the dimwitted-yet-lovable fool quite well. Owen Wilson turns in a decent, but not surprising, performance as sort of a jerk and a villain here. I've enjoyed Wilson's work many times over the years, but I definitely prefer him in roles where he's more like Zach's character here (Shanghai Noon is one of my favorite roles for Wilson). Kristen Wiig, who I thought was great in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Anchorman 2, falls somewhere between her more serious and silly roles here. Her Ghostbusters remake co-star Kate McKinnon is just awful here as Jandice, the woman David is set to marry. McKinnon plays it as subtle as a wrecking ball and her scenes are painful to endure. The third new Ghostbuster, Leslie Jones, who I usually find unbearable due to her loud and obnoxious persona, reins it in for the most part and plays her character more mellow than she usually does. (However, seeing the three of them in this film just continues to reassure me of my decision to avoid the completely unwarranted Ghostbusters remake altogether.) Jason Sudekis, who I'm also not usually a fan of, is fantastic as a hitman here. He has some really great moments in the film. For the most part, it's a pretty strong cast of comedic actors and they help make this a pretty enjoyable romp.
Masterminds offers stupid humor akin to something you'd see in a Farrelly Brothers movie. Tonally, I'd say it's about on par with Dumb & Dumber, so I can see why the film may be a bit polarizing to audiences. I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion, though. It's not a perfect comedy, but Hess does go for those unexpected shock-laugh moments and they mostly work. But stupid humor doesn't always work, and not every joke lands (some fart and diarrhea jokes were too lowbrow, as well as McKinnon's trance-like portrayal of Jandice), but I'd say it's funnier more often than not.
The content is violent at times, but mostly in a comedic fashion, with some of the humor stemming from somewhat mild sexual humor. It's seldom vulgar or profane, but there are enough crude jokes to make this an uncomfortable one to watch with the family. Also, the themes of stealing and murder have varied amounts of glorification here, even if it's usually in jest. In the one special feature on the Blu-Ray disc, the real-life David Ghantt explains his experience and how, because of where he is today, he doesn't regret stealing the money and would do it again. It's that kind of moral compromise that shouldn't be glorified (even if he is just being frank and honest). Still, I'd say that Masterminds does a good enough job of showcasing the dangers and pitfalls of such an act and the lifestyle that follows it. The goofy delivery of the story also helps that a bit. As far as the violent content goes, the worst is a fake-looking dismembered ear that we see briefly that accidentally falls out of the hitman's handkerchief. Also, he talks a lot about enjoying cutting up his victims, but we never see anything like that. Most of the violence is played for laughs, though. And language, for the most part, is minor, with a few uses of blasphemy as exclamations and mostly just uses of "h*ll," "d*mn" or the "a" word.
Masterminds is no masterpiece, but if you're looking for a really lighthearted comedy that's worth a few laughs, you couldn't go wrong with the silliness of Masterminds. However, if you like some more intelligence with your humor, you'll want to steer clear of the ironically titled Masterminds.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 1/29/17)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Masterminds is available in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack, but with absolutely no included digital copy (which is unfortunate). You can also get it on single-disc DVD and from the usual digital movie sellers.
The Blu-Ray is anemic when it comes to special features, including just a trailer (2:16) for this movie and the following bonus feature:
The Imperfect Crime (16:30) - This lone bonus feature features the FBI agents from the original 1997 case talking about the real-life Loomis Fargo heist. We also get to hear from the real-life David Ghantt about his experiences with the heist and life after he'd completed his prison sentence. Unforunately, we do not hear from the director or any of the cast, and don't see any behind-the-scenes footage. It is neat to learn about the story that inspired the movie, however.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 1/29/17)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: We briefly see a very passionate kiss between a man and a woman on a TV screen; While trying to get fired, Kelly asks her boss what if she committed sexual harassment? She proceeds to run her hands up and down her own body and then on David's chest. She then takes off her gun belt and straddles it, rubbing it between her legs; When Kelly is fired, her boss tells her to leave her uniform. She then unbuttons her shirt and throws it to the ground and we see her walk off in just her bra and work shorts. David goes after her to talk to her and they talk for a while with her standing there like that. He tells her he likes her bra and what they hold; Kelly shows cleavage in almost every shirt/top she wears in every scene; When the thorn of a rose pricks Kelly's chest and it bleeds, David asks why it isn't milk. She says the thinks she has to be pregnant for that; David and Kelly talk about their hairdresser and she said he did her bangs. David innocently says he uses the same hairdresser and he "banged me out last week" (meaning his hair's bangs); Kelly flirts with David over the phone. Before she hangs up, she says "I have to go wash my pantyhose with my mouth;" We see a random shot of David in a towel from behind and him clapping a lot of powder up around his crotch area (behind our view of the towel); We briefly see the top of David's butt crack when he bends over; David stuffs his pants full of money and when he needs some to pay at a coffee shop, he reaches into his underwear and pulls out a bill, which we see has a big clump of pubic hair on it. He then blows on it to blow it away; One of David's coworkers tries to recall Kelly's name while talking to the FBI and suggests "Katie Candy Cane." The FBI agent comments "What is she? A stripper?"; Jandice talks to Kelly about yeast infections and show her a tube called Vagaway; David calls Kelly "Sugarbush" as an affectionate nickname; Mike mentions David making a "booty call" to Kelly; In the outtakes during the end credits, David and Kelly go to kiss and David sticks his tongue out for a French kiss. She goes "No, put it in," and he jumps up as if he's going to undo his pants and she says, "No, no, no, the tongue!"
Vulgarity/Language: 3 "cr*p," 1 "Good L-rd," 1 "ASA Effin P" (said like that), 4 "d*mn," 5 "h*ll," 5 "a" words, 1 "t*t," 1 "G-d," 1 "L-rd"
Alcohol/Drugs: We see Steve and his buddies drinking beer; We see David drinking a bottle of alcohol in Mexico; David stumbles down the street while drunk holding a beer can;
Blood/Gore: We see a drop of blood on Kelly's chest after she's poked by the thorn of a rose. She dabs it up; David watches a Van Damme movie on TV and we see the actor flipping around and shooting up a car with some blood on the windshield; We see David drinking the water in Mexico and then having massive diarrhea in a swimming pool; We see a dismembered ear fall on the floor when Mike gets a handkerchief out of his pocket.
In the prologue, we see surveillance footage of guys with guns approaching an armored car, robbing a store at gunpoint, etc. There's another video of a guy falling off his bike. Then we see some fight scenes from a cheesy karate movie, and then footage of a man beating up a garbage can outside of a garbage truck; David and Kelly shoot pistols for target practice at a shooting range. David goes to tuck it into the back of his pants and accidentally fires it, shooting a hole in his pants; Kelly throws down her gun belt and the gun goes off, shattering a window; David watches a Van Damme movie on TV and we see the actor flipping around and shooting up a car with some blood on the windshield; Kelly gives David a dead tarantula to eat, in order to build up his immune system while in Mexico (we see him put it in his mouth and crunch down on it); David smashes security cameras with a broom; David speeds a van through a warehouse door and it hits a nearby car and ends up in a ditch; While swimming, an eel bites David's hand; While David is running, a pursuing motorcycle hits a chain and flips into the water; A rifle explodes in a man's face and he falls off a balcony. He then gets up and chases David. He grabs a spear from a storefront and throws it through the back of a truck. We see David hanging onto the back of the truck as it speeds away and he gets knocked into a bunch of street carts and decorations. We see another car crash into something during the pandemonium; Mike hits David over the head with a kitchen pot lid; Mike describes to David the ways he'd cut him up, but doesn't try to kill him; Jandice tackles Kelly and they fight in a dressing room. They continue to hit each other and Jandice grabs an axe and lunges at her. They then wrestle on the ground until Kelly squeezes Jandice's tube of Vagaway into her mouth; David and Mike fight off Mexican police in an airport; David hits a man in the face with a butt of a gun; David punches a door to break it down, but just a piece breaks off and he accidentally punches Kelly on the other side of the door; David jumps through the door and tackles her by accident; David accidentally shoots a BBQ grill that explodes, throwing people and ripping off a man's shirt; Kelly lights and throws a molotov cocktail onto a monster truck that then explodes; David and Kelly run a car into an iron fence; Steve punches David in the gut; We see a man get out of Mike's trunk whose hands are bound. He runs through a prison parking lot and is gunned down by prison security (played for laughs).
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.