‘Masterminds’ Is A Great Example Of Why Improv Comedy And True Crime Don’t Usually Coexist

That Masterminds ends with both epilogue photographs of the real-life subjects next to the actors who played them and a lengthy blooper reel of the actors cracking each other up on set should tell you everything you need to know about it. This is a true crime story of dumb bank robbers and failed murder plots that’s also a series of half-assed sketches starring SNL actors recycling bits to get a rise out of each other. It defines “trying too hard.” And hey, you know what’s a great way to make a heist movie dull? Fill it full of actors not committing to anything and make everything over-the-top ridiculous.

Just look at the costumes. Zach Galifianakis with a medieval Dutch Boy haircut, Jason Sudeikis in a black mustache, Owen Wilson in a sleeveless T-shirt and Hammer pants, Kate McKinnon in a taffeta nightmare prom dress — this styling might be funny in a photobooth prop kind of way, but it comes at the expense of setting up a story that’s believable in any way. The cast looks like high school kids goofing around in thrift store clothes. That was probably fun for them (hence the blooper reels) but not something anyone else wants to sit through for more than five minutes. Also, didn’t Jared Hess (who directed Masterminds) already use the “tough guy in Hammer pants” bit in Napoleon Dynamite? Moreover, if you think you have to try this hard to make the true story Masterminds is based on interesting, why would you want to tell it in the first place?

About that story: David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis) works at Loomis Fargo, an armored car company. A redneck dipsh*t named Steve (Owen Wilson) uses his friend and Ghantt’s crush (Kristen Wiig as Kelly Campbell) as a honeypot to recruit Ghantt to steal a fortune in armored car money. (Kate McKinnon plays Ghantt’s fiancée as a less refined version of the glaze-eyed bodysnatchers character she plays in Ghostbusters — which was actually shot after Masterminds, which was delayed when Relativity Media went bankrupt.) Ghantt flees to Mexico after the crime, taking all the heat and leaving most of the money with Steve, who eventually sends a hitman (Jason Sudeikis) to kill him. This seems like it might have been a reasonably compelling story on paper. but Masterminds seems less interested in actually telling it than drawing squirting dicks in the margins.

I exaggerate only slightly. When Zach Galifianakis goes to Mexico, he rollerblades around town with an entire CD visor strapped to his arm (remember the ’90s? LOL!) and has a diarrhea in the hotel pool. When Kristen Wiig pricks the upper part of her boob on a thorn from a rose Galifianakis gives her, he sees the blood and asks, “Why isn’t it milk?”

Why isn’t it milk indeed. Masterminds doesn’t seem to understand that tacky costumes are funnier if they contain at least some kernel of believability. Go too far and you’re no longer depicting people, just clowns, a truth that applies to the entire movie. Isn’t this wig silly? Look at my oversized shoes, no one wears shoes this big! Maybe this is someone’s bag, I don’t know, but I tend to find jokes funnier when a guy in a magenta afro wig isn’t yelling them into my ear with a bullhorn.

Vince Mancini is a writer, comedian, and podcaster. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.