Masterminds, a film based on the true story of some of the dumbest criminals the late ‘90s Middle America had to offer, just wasn’t wacky enough for it’s talent. The true story is so out there that it’s just waiting for someone to say “you can’t make this up”. However the final result of the film may have been stronger if they had in fact made more of the script up.
Most of the key moments stayed true to life and so they lacked enough drama to keep the pace going. The twists and turns were based on reality so they lacked a riveting narrative. That coupled with the fact that most of the characters were not bright, educated, or even street smart made them comprehensively dull to watch as a group. This is not meant as an appraisal of bad acting. Everyone in the film had a real sense of the character, however the characters themselves weren’t well rounded enough to carry a film. Most of them felt like they belonged in a Saturday Night Live Sketch or as a sidekick rather than a featured role. There was nothing inherently intriguing enough about any one character to give the film any kind of energy. This lack of energy prevailed through the whole film making the result lackluster.
The actors did a good job of coming up with specific character traits, but because most of the characters were passive none of them were dynamic enough to be interesting beyond a scene or two. Certainly there were funny moments like the engagement photo session between Zach Galifianakis and Kate McKinnon. This scene was probably the funniest of the entire film and it had almost nothing to do with plot. It was one of the few that shaped the world and ideals of the characters in a very humorous way. It played into the small town feel, capturing the character’s personalities in an effortless yet telling way.
Galifianakis (David Ghantt) and Kristen Wiig committed fully to their small town criminal characters and their dynamic was certainly believable. I would have liked to have seen more of either character’s back story in order to have been more invested in their crime spree. Wiig did a good job of capturing Kelly’s restlessness, but the script didn’t lend to why her character was dissatisfied enough to fall in with Steve (Owen Wilson’s) gang. Galifianakis did a wonderful job of playing the puppy dog love interest to Wiig. It was endearing because he played it in such a sweet and hopeful way. I did however feel like we could have seen him fall for her a little bit more in the beginning to justify his leaving his fiance and robbing his place of work. The infatuation was well played, it just felt like there was a scene or a quick montage missing in the progression of his fall for the bad girl.
One of the more interesting true to life details was during David Ghantt’s escape to Mexico, Steve sends Jason Sudeikis’ Mike McKinney to whack Ghantt. After a silly chase scene they end up befriending one another and the attempt of murder is all but forgotten. This was also true to life. While I actually think this is an interesting twist I think the reasoning for the burgeoning needed to be a little bit stronger to pay off the later scene in the airport. The version of Mike McKinney that Sudeikis played would have needed a stronger reason to continue to help Ghantt given his sadistic nature. This would have helped pay off the airport scene, which was probably the second funniest exchange of the film.
I think ultimately why the film fell short was that there were so few scenes for the actors to really play. Some of the best comedic talent around was in this film and they were hampered by sticking too close to “what really happened” thus not allowing for more of their improv ability to shine through. Something most of the talent in this film has down in spades. I will say the film is worth watching if for no other reason than to pay off the details of the true backstory. Paying for a large house in cash days after one of the biggest thefts in history is a bit of a dead giveaway of one's culpability yet the real life criminals did just that. It’s no wonder someone decided to make these infamous idiots immortalized on the silver screen and there’s no shortage of articles chronicling the similarities between fact and film. If you do watch the film I highly recommend checking them out.
I am on a mission to see if the movies that are “Popular on Netflix” are actually any good or if those are the ones that simply paid more for marketing.