Blu-ray Review: Masterminds (2016)

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Director Jared Hess is best known for writing (with wife Jerusha) and directing the 2004 phenomenon Napoleon Dynamite. Ever since, Hess has seen diminishing returns for his follow-up projects: Nacho Libre, Gentleman Broncos, and Don Verdean (those unusual titles seem like self-conscious attempts to replicate Napoleon's offbeat success as part of the pop culture lexicon).

Masterminds, new to Blu-ray and DVD via Fox Home Entertainment, marks the first time Hess has taken a "job for hire" instead of penning original work with his wife. A trio of screenwriters (Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer, Emily Spivey) crafted a screwball comedy based on the infamous Loomis Fargo Bank Robbery that occurred in 1997. Thankfully Hess has a great cast, otherwise the workmanlike "zaniness" of Masterminds would hardly warrant a look. 
 
Masterminds 1.jpg Zach Galifianakis, in a funny wig, stars as hapless David Ghantt, a beleaguered Loomis employee. He's about to marry a woman (SNL's Kate McKinnon) he seemingly has little in common with, adding to his general malaise. In hopes of a romance blooming between he and co-worker Kelly (Kristen Wiig), Ghantt agrees to assist in a robbery of his cash-handling employer. Kelly and her boyfriend Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson) concoct a so-crazy-it-just-might-work plan in an attempt to pull off the biggest cash-only robbery in U.S. history. That it succeeds (initially, at least) is proof that truth is stranger than fiction. 

Masterminds 2.jpg The situation deteriorates rapidly post-robbery as Ghantt hides out in Mexico. Steve has no intention of actually delivering the agreed-upon share of the $17 million to Ghantt. And, despite her sympathetic feelings for Ghantt, Kelly has no intention of ditching Steve in his favor. Owen Wilson is sadly a boring straight-man to everyone else, but Wiig manages to fashion something of a three-dimensional character out of her thinly-written role. Where Hess and company really go wrong is in abandoning the true story in favor of broad wackiness that has little basis in reality.

This unfortunate approach is defined by the introduction of hitman Mike McKinney (Jason Sudeikis). To be fair, McKinney is based on a real guy who was hired by Steve to kill Ghantt. But the filmmakers invent a bizarre subplot about Mike thinking Ghantt is his long-lost brother, separated at birth. This is not only an out-of-left-field distraction, it's also wholly and painfully unfunny. The McKinney/Ghantt nonsense also signals the beginning of a long series ‘action comedy’ cliches that comprises most of Masterminds‘ third act. 

Masterminds 3.jpg Special features: we get a very limited package on Fox's Blu-ray, one featurette to be specific. "The Imperfect Crime" is a solidly-produced, if too short (16 minutes), piece that gives us a look at the real David Ghantt and the true story that inspired Masterminds. Hess and the writers should've hewed closer to the facts, because they are infinitely more fascinating than the fictionalized movie.
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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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