In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Masterminds might be the most okay movie I’ve ever seen. It’s neither good nor bad: neither funny nor unfunny. The performances are not good, but they certainly aren’t bad. The plot isn’t boring, but it’s not even remotely compelling. None of this really bodes well for the film . . . but that doesn’t make it unwatchable either. Get ready. I am about to fail you as a critic. I plead the fifth. I feel no type of way toward this forgettable-yet-harmless movie. I’m leaving it entirely up to you whether or not you should or shouldn’t see this movie. I’ll give you this: no matter where you stand, this is a Redbox-er. There are moments in the film where I actively decided to like it. In these moments I found myself pleased. The film became enjoyable. Conversely, once my smile muscles got tired and I made the decision to dislike the film, I became acutely aware that my time was being wasted.
Example: there’s a scene where Zach Galifianakis drinks Mexican tap water and then proceeds to poop himself in the pool much to the dismay of other swimmers. This should be funny. It almost can’t not be funny. I figured I should probably laugh and forced myself to do so. It felt good, almost genuine . . . but it wasn’t, so I stopped. It didn’t help that the brown poop water was obviously CGI, but even so, it’s a foolproof gag, no matter how you slice it, even though it wasn’t. This is basically the problem with the whole movie. The gags are there, they are all good ideas on paper, and all are executed with aplomb by an incredible cast. Yet somehow they just don’t work, even when they do. Which they don’t. Unless you want them to, in which case they might. Ya know?
Every review comes complete with a plot description, so here it is. Please note that in the interest of avoiding a parade of character names with parenthetical notations of performer names, I plan to refer solely to the actors, since they all are essentially playing their standard type.
A Zach Galifianakis is an armored car security guard with bangs. He’s got a fiancé in the form of a Kate McKinnon. His coworker is a Kristen Wiig, who he kinda has a crush on. Her friend is an Owen Wilson (and his wife is The Waitress from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). The Owen Wilson convinces the Kristen Wiig to exploit the sexual desires of the Zach Galifianakis and con him into stealing a bunch of money from their workplace. They do so, and now the Zach Galifianakis is hiding out in Mexico. When it begins to look like the heat might come down on their caper (in the form of a Jon Daly and a Leslie Jones), the Owen Wilson sends a Jason Sudeikis to kill the Zach Galifianakis and cover their tracks. Requisite zaniness ensues and it’s all a ton of fun or not, depending on how you want to feel about it in that very moment.
It may sound like I’m hating on Masterminds. I’m not, I promise. Although I might be. I don’t know.
As a filmmaker, Jared Hess is a mixed bag for me. Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre are bona fide masterworks of comedy, but I fear he will always exist in his own shadow. It’s a shame because those films were positively groundbreaking. Risky even. His subsequent output has just felt too safe. Masterminds is a huge example of this. There’s really an opportunity to make a subversive comedy, but the material is terrified to go dark, instead focusing on candy-colored goofiness. It’s not a problem per se, but it’s meaningless. I attribute this to the modern comedic sensibility (no, I’m not saying comedy is dead), but why would any filmmaker try to do something interesting when even a single accusation of insensitivity is enough to sink a career? Better to have a bankable star make a funny face and poop in the pool than do anything challenging.
All said, there needs to be a law that guarantees Kate McKinnon a role in every comedy movie for at least the next five years. Masterminds‘ biggest laughs all go to her and her God-given knack for delivering even the blandest lines with a comedic style that can be compared to no one. She’s an original.
In closing, you might like this movie. You might not. I sure did! But maybe I didn’t. I just. Don’t. Know.
I do know this: I’ll forgive sloppy filmmaking as long as it’s effective, but when you can see the film crew reflected in the lenses of every single pair of sunglasses that makes it into the frame (and every single character wears sunglasses throughout most of the movie), it’s easy to begin wondering if anyone cared. Heck, the film’s denouement revolves around a character recognizing another character that he’s never even met before. That’s too sloppy.
Whatever. It’s fine. Really it’s a completely fine movie.
Masterminds opens in Philly theaters today.