By: Kevin Jordan

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

MASTERMINDS Teaser

I’ve made no secret of my disdain for Saturday Night Live alumni, its writers, or its producers.  I stopped watching the full show in college (we would watch the opening segment, then ignore it until Weekend Update when Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey were crushing it), then quit altogether due to a combination of Fey and Fallon leaving the show and the show becoming the least funny thing on television, which includes those animal commercials from Sarah McLachlan.  Perhaps my biggest problem with movies written for and by SNL people is that most of the jokes seem like they are either really long setups with little to no payoff or inside jokes between the cast and crew.  And we know this is likely to be the case because every one of their films include production notes or interviews describing all of the improvisation going on throughout production.  Just once, I’d like to see the screenplay for one of these films to see how much of it was flat out ignored because there is no way you will convince that every movie featuring Wiig wrote down that she should sing at some point during the film.

The good news is that I’m willing to give these people repeated chances to impress me rather than just being a curmudgeon.  Jason Sudeikis won me over after Horrible Bosses and We’re the Millers and is one of the main reasons why I decided to give Masterminds a chance.  Kristen Wiig is slowly improving in my book, as I may or may not have made a voodoo doll of her after Bridesmaids.  While she can’t carry a movie, she’s decent in supporting roles and delivers well when restrained by good writing and directing.  Toss in Zach Galifianakis and Owen Wilson and Masterminds seemed like it might have a chance with me.

There was a time when I'd be rooting for her to shoot herself.

There was a time when I’d be rooting for her to shoot herself.

More good news is that this movie does have some funny content.  The movie is based on the true story of a man named David Ghantt (Galifianakis), a Loomis Fargo employee, who (with several other people) decided to rob Loomis Fargo and got away with more than $17 million dollars, though all of them were eventually caught and most of the money recovered.  You should always beware of films claiming to be “based on a true story,” and this one is no different, but to its credit, the film keeps the major plot points intact (if you want to read about it, the wiki page is pretty good, as are many other search results).  My favorite factoid is that local residents came to refer to as “the hillbilly heist” and that’s where the film gets its real inspiration, though not the better parts of its comedy.  For me, the film got funny when unexpected things happened, which is basically the opposite of what happens on SNL.  Just to ruin one joke, Wiig takes a punch to the gut as she is standing next to a door and David is trying to open it from the other side.  And, no, it’s not just because Wiig got punched.

This is where the unexpected happens.

This is where the unexpected happens.

The bad news is this movie is very obviously SNL-inspired.  Or maybe that’s good news for those of you who forgot what good comedy looks and sounds like.  It features jokes that take way too long to develop, including walking meme, Kate McKinnon, playing David’s fiancé Jandice.  She delivers every line through clenched teeth and a sociopath’s smile and literally has nothing to do with the plot.  She is used as nothing more than an elaborate setup for a fight involving vagina cream (I am not making that up) and David’s crush, Kelly (Wiig).  What’s odd about this fight is that the two women have never met (at least that the audience is aware of), yet Jandice jumps her like a mountain lion when they meet at a department store.  It features gross-out gags (diarrhea in a pool, among others), one of which is far funnier in the outtakes than in finished film.  It features uncomfortable/awkward humor, including pre-wedding picture-posing by David and Jandice and a how-we-met story that makes you die a little inside.  In other words, it’s a great reminder of why I don’t watch SNL any more.

The ugly news is that the film features hammed up costumes, makeup effects, and accents (or lack thereof).  Of all of the true components to keep, the fact that the actual heist took place in 1997 is probably the last one that should have been kept.  Since the movie takes place in a North Carolina trailer park and Mexico, two places where time stopped mattering long ago, trying to be authentic with the visuals doesn’t add to the comedy, but does make you wonder when this movie really is taking place.  All of the sight jokes involving looks they go for fall flat, from David’s Lord Farquat haircut, to Steve (Owen Wilson) and Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) Chambers’ teeth and braces, to all of their bad clothing.  Considering I am the target audience for those jokes (I was in high school in 1997), I can definitively say that 1997 didn’t look that way.  And as for those accents, either do them or don’t do them.  Galifianakis’ and Sudeikis’ held steady, but Wiig’s went in and out, and Wilson didn’t even bother.  That’s the sign of a director who was hired basically as nothing more than a manager to make sure everyone showed up for work every day.

Our reasons for watching, despite their looks.

Our reasons for watching, despite their looks.

Despite all of that, the movie was better than I expected, especially considering it featured three-fourths of the cast of the Ghostbusters remake.  I found myself laughing at times and never thinking about how to get hair from the actors in order to make more voodoo dolls.  Galifianakis and Sudeikis make the movie worth watching and the film refrains from making Ghantt a total idiot (which would have ruined the movie outright).  It’s by no means good enough to make me want to sit through another SNL skit (let alone an entire episode), but it could have been a lot worse – it could have featured four-fourths of the cast of the Ghostbusters remake.

Rating: Ask for 4 dollars back.  I’d say it was slightly better than meh.