There’s a certain subset of the population that finds Zach Galifianakis in a ridiculous hairdo the height of comedy. If you are in that segment, you’ll find much merriment in the silly “Masterminds,” which is based on the true story of one of the largest cash robberies in the United States. Also, Galifianakis sports a variety of insane wigs and ’dos, from a long blonde number, to a kinky black perm, to his own Prince Valiant bob.
“Masterminds” is a small, strange film that definitely won’t enter the upper echelons of director Jared Hess’ oeuvre, which includes the wacky “Napoleon Dynamite.” Nevertheless, the marriage of the insane 1997 true crime story and the murderer’s row of comic performers results in copious laughter.
Galifianakis plays aw-shucks naif David Ghantt, an employee of armored truck company, trapped in a loveless engagement with Jandice (an unblinking Kate McKinnon), carrying a torch for his co-worker, Kelly (Kristen Wiig). Kelly and her petty thief buddy Stephen (Owen Wilson) hatch a plan to rob the company vault, and they ensnare David into their plot as their inside man.
Despite a lack of skill or common sense, David pulls off the robbery, though soon he’s stranded on the lam in Mexico, while Stephen and his family are living high on the hog back in North Carolina, freely spending the millions David stole for them.
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Hess gives his comedic performers the time, space and permission to push the boundaries of their own bizarre tendencies, and it’s the perfect showcase for a comedian like Galifianakis, who can get belly laughs from a well-deployed glance or intonation. This is a cast where one can just turn the cameras on and watch the madness unfold, whether it’s Wiig crooning a wordless love ballad into a walkie-talkie, an inspired take on an engagement photo shoot featuring David and Jandice, or simply Galifianakis on roller blades.
But there’s something that doesn’t quite jibe. Perhaps it’s that this is the first film that Hess has directed that he hasn’t written (the script is by Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer and Emily Spivey), but it’s as if there are too many characters, too many plot twists, too many action-based story moments, which ultimately curb the opportunities to really let these weirdos loose.
The film devolves into a schlocky 1990s unlikely-hero-saves-the-day routine, and fails to delve into deeper themes about crimes and punishment and passion. There’s also the unshakable feeling that, at times, cast and filmmakers might be laughing at their small-town subjects rather than with them. Yet “Masterminds” still has riotously funny moments, thanks to the fearless, uninhibited actors and a director who lets them play.
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, some language and violence. 1:34. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.