Inanely silly, slapstick comedic and fun, it is hard to believe that Masterminds is based upon a true story and wasn’t simply a late night, tall-tale concoction. It follows the riotous misadventures of unlikely anti-hero David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis) as he pulls off one of the largest robberies in U.S. history. He is painted as a simpleton who fell in love with “skirt” and then did something out of character.
The trouble begins when David, a trusted armoured-truck driver for Loomis Fargo, falls for beautiful guard Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig). After she throws in her job, Kelly, egged on by local petty thief Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson) persuades David to clean out the company’s vault in Charlotte, North Carolina. Little does David realise that he is dealing with more than $20 million Australian in cash.
As if a heist like that isn’t audacious enough, what follows thereafter verges on the totally and utterly ridiculous. You are constantly left thinking how could people be so stupid and so naïve? It feels as if the characters have been dumbed down for the sake of cheap laughs, but who I am to know? They seem like cardboard cutouts or big kids. That’s not to say that the choice of actors to play them wasn’t appropriate and strong – because it was – simply commentary on the type of film this is.
Galifianakis, who was born about an hour north of Charlotte, felt an immediate kinship with the world of Masterminds. “I grew up with guys like David,” he says. “So getting into character was pretty second nature. It wasn’t like I had to do a ton of research.” The actor developed a genuine fondness for his part after meeting the real-life David Ghantt in Los Angeles. “I went to lunch with David and found him to be a gentle, sweet guy and even somewhat innocent,” says Galifianakis.
As the director of 2004’s zeitgeist-defining nerd comedy Napoleon Dynamite and 2006’s Nacho Libre, which stars Jack Black as a misunderstood Mexican monk, Jared Hess has demonstrated his gift for generating laughs from underdogs. So it seems only natural that the Utah-born filmmaker would be intrigued with the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction 1997 Loomis Fargo heist. Hess says he experienced an instinctive connection with the bizarre story, particularly with its protagonist, David.
The filmmakers have kept the tone of the whole piece light. In other words, they have played it strictly for laughs, highlighting the bumbling nature of those involved, from those I have already mentioned to inept Mexican cops and an overzealous hit man (Jason Sudeikis).
To finish where I started, movies like this – pure popcorn entertainment – are not meant to come from a place of reality, but Masterminds breaks the mold, at least in that regard. There was a BBC television show called Mastermind that dealt with contestants that had incredible knowledge about specific subjects. Let’s just say the personas here wouldn’t have troubled the scorers. And do remember to stay on until the credits for the outtakes. Rated M, Masterminds scores a 6 out of 10.
Director: Jared Hess
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Zach Galifianakis, Kate McKinnon, Jason Sudeikis, Owen Wilson
Release Date: 13 October 2016
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television