Like Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Masterminds takes a dramatic situation and plays it for laughs. A terrific comic thriller could have been made from this real-life caper; what we have instead is a slapstick comedy of errors. The movie makes fun of just about everyone involved, snidely insinuating that it is amazing that these bunglers could ever have robbed an armored car company of some $17 million.
Jared Hess’ film is somewhat reminiscent of his Napoleon Dynamite, for the manner in which it features unapologetically dim, yet likable, even charming, characters. I don’t really care about its central character, the security guard played by Zach Galifianakis, who continually embarrasses and humiliates himself, but I love his compatriot, played by Kristen Wiig. Her character is warm and gracious, though just as clueless as anyone else. Owen Wilson scores as the persuasive brain behind the heist, and Jason Sudeikis is slick as a dopey hit man. Other cast members include two of the Ghostbusters girls, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon (though this was filmed in 2014, before Ghostbusters).
Comedy is a matter of personal taste, and I must confess that this type of comedy, of people being assiduously stupid, is not really for me. Cops and robbers alike are seen as foolish and ridiculous. I prefer cleverness over stupidity. However, Hess’ approach does result in more laughs than I expected, and I definitely felt an affinity for the unrequited love aspect of the story. It also doesn’t hurt that James Coburn (my favorite actor) and In Like Flint make a brief, welcome appearance early in the proceedings.
I didn’t expect much from Masterminds yet I was pleasantly surprised how engaging it is. Kristen Wiig is especially good. It is also astounding to consider that much of this caper actually took place almost twenty years ago, since this comic version is sometimes, if not often, unbelievable. If you like goofy comedy and the stars involved, this movie may be for you. ☆ ☆ 1/2. 7 October 2016.