Editor’s Note: Masterminds opens in wide theatrical release today, September 30, 2016.
Someone. Anyone. Please stop Jared Hess (Don Verdean, Gentlemen Broncos, Nacho Libre, Napoleon Dynamite) before he makes another film. Alas, it’s too late. He went ahead and made another film, Masterminds. Masterminds languished in Relativity Media’s virtual vaults while Relativity and its creditors found an equitable solution in bankruptcy court for Relativity’s financial issues. Frankly, it should have stayed in Relativity’s vaults, never to be heard or seen from again. Unfortunately, Relativity moves in mysterious ways, releasing Masterminds right on the cusp of Oscar season. Masterminds won’t win any awards, of course. In a just world, Masterminds will be remembered – if it’s remembered at all (it shouldn’t be) – for Hess’ “talent” for wasting generational best comedic talent in an ill-conceived, woefully executed enterprise.
After more than a few minutes of Hess’ approach, it becomes tiring. After a half hour, it becomes burdensome. After an hour, it becomes sheer, unadulterated torture. By the ninety-minute mark, multiple, simultaneous root canals sound like a far more preferable option than another minute of Hess’ Masterminds.
Ostensibly “based on a true story,” the 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery of a regional vault that netted thieves more than $17 million in hard currency, Masterminds takes the “true story” angle and trashes it repeatedly, replacing objective fact and historical truth with a absurdist, farcical comedy centered on David Scott Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis), a dim-witted, self-absorbed, going-on-forty security guard in existential crisis mode. Despite a marriage on the horizon to a long-time girlfriend, Jandice (Kate McKinnon), a semi-seedy, if also semi-comfortable home in a trailer park, and an important job (maybe the most important job of all) transporting cash for an armored car company, David faces middle age with a barely suppressed scream of despair and desperation. Luckily for David, if not the audience, a new co-worker, Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig), promises all kinds of change, including an idyllic life somewhere down South as lovers.
Before David can make his dream life happen, though, he has to rob his unwitting employers of the aforementioned $17 million. It’s not even David or Kelly’s idea. The “mastermind” of the title, Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson), an old friend of Kelly, turns out to be the man with the plan. For Steve, it’s a low-risk plan with major upside: David steals the money, Steve and his confederates hide the money, while David absconds to Mexico where he’ll live a life of leisure for a few months (or longer) until the Feds become tired of chasing their tails and move on to other, more important. Despite David’s champion-level ineptness, he manages to steal the money, but his fatal flaw, a trusting nature that betrays general life inexperience, almost dooms him. Eventually stranded in Mexico, with an eccentric hitman only a few paces behind, money shortages, and a keen sense of disappointment and betrayal, David finally becomes a man of action and decides to take his destiny in his own hands.
In a just world, Masterminds will be remembered – if it’s remembered at all (it shouldn’t be) – for Jared Hess’ “talent” for wasting generational best comedic talent in an ill-conceived, woefully executed enterprise.
Under Hess’ patronizing, condescending eye, David’s path toward self-awareness, if not self-fulfillment, is filled with a steady stream of pratfalls, bad dye jobs, and even worse fashion sense. It’s clear from the beginning that Hess enjoys “punching down,” ridiculing his characters’ ill-defined, misconceived dreams, deriding their appearance (Hess’ consistently crams his films with purposely average-looking or unattractive people in lead or supporting roles), and mocking their intellects and intelligence, all for the benefit of agreeable audiences eager to embrace their innate, unearned sense of superiority over their onscreen counterparts. After more than a few minutes of Hess’ approach, it becomes tiring. After a half hour, it becomes burdensome. After an hour, it becomes sheer, unadulterated torture. By the ninety-minute mark, multiple, simultaneous root canals sound like a far more preferable option than another minute of Hess’ Masterminds.
But a question, a question unlikely to be answered here or elsewhere remains: How and why did Hess collect such a wide, varied array of comedic talent? It certainly couldn’t have been the script. Maybe it was the promise of on-set improvisation. The obligatory outtakes that play out over the end credits suggest as much. Even there, though, the attempted laughs feel forced and contrived (because they are), suggesting Hess and his editors didn’t leave a better film on the cutting room floor. Their “best” version of Masterminds is right up on the screen and by “best” we most definitely mean “worst.” On the strength (or lack thereof) of Masterminds, it might be time for Hess to call it a directing career and move on to something else that make better use of his talents, whatever those might be.
Director Jared Hess turns his patronizing, condescending eye toward ridiculing his characters in Masterminds, a tiresome film that wastes generational best comedic talent in an ill-conceived, woefully executed enterprise.