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Goofy 'Masterminds' puts a Hess twist on a real-life armored car heist

Posted October 2

“MASTERMINDS” — 2½ stars — Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Leslie Jones; PG-13 (crude and sexual humor, some language and violence); in general release

It’s remarkable to think that there is a true story lurking in the heart of the lunacy that is “Masterminds.”

“Masterminds” tells the true story of a $17 million armored truck heist, albeit with a little Jared Hess-style enhancement. The caper is centered around a Loomis Fargo employee named David Ghantt, who was an upstanding citizen right up until his hormones got the best of him.

Zack Galifianakis gleefully plays the inside man Ghantt under a hideous hairdo that makes the rookie criminal look like, as one supporting character puts it, “if Kenny Rogers and Kenny Loggins had a love child.” It would be easy to assume the getup is created purely for laughs, but a photograph over the closing credits suggests Galifianakis is playing the real-life Ghantt pretty close to reality.

Ghantt has always longed for adventure, and opportunity arrives in the form of a vixen of an ex-co-worker named Kelly (Kristen Wiig), who convinces him that if he pulls off the job, she’ll run off to Mexico with him to live the high life.

The temptation is too much for Ghantt, who is more than happy to break his engagement to a creepy, glassy-eyed gal named Jandice (Kate McKinnon). When the film is making its introductions early on, we are treated to Ghantt and Jandice’s vivid engagement photo session, and that tells you all you need to know about their relationship.

But Ghantt isn’t the only one with divided allegiances. Kelly is beholden to Steve (Owen Wilson), a deadbeat living with a wife and two sons in what he calls a “double-wide high-rise” — a mobile home on six feet worth of blocks. Steve gets Kelly to put Ghantt up to the task, then sends a hit man named Mike (Jason Sudeikis) to get rid of his patsy.

After Ghantt somehow pulls off the heist, the “Masterminds” plot splits into two settings as Ghantt heads to Mexico with Mike in pursuit, and Steve starts buying everything in sight, to the suspicion of his brand-new wealthy neighbors.

Set in the late 1990s, Hess takes us to a world of pagers and pay phones with the same awkward quirkiness he used for 2004’s breakout “Napoleon Dynamite.” But while there are enough nods to Hess’ style to make the director’s presence felt, “Masterminds” feels crafted more towards showcasing the talents of its celebrity cast, similar to Hess’ Jack Black vehicle “Nacho Libre.”

Thanks to Relativity Studios’ 2015 bankruptcy, “Masterminds” took a little extra time to make it to theaters, but fans of Hess and his eccentric cast will consider the product worth the wait. Fans of McKinnon’s work in last summer’s “Ghostbusters” reboot will be especially pleased to see more of the actress' unique deadpan style, and the “amateur criminals in over their heads” theme will feel familiar to anyone who enjoyed Wilson’s first role in Wes Anderson’s “Bottle Rocket.”

At one point in the film, Ghantt describes himself as a “corn dog at a hot dog party,” and that seems like a pretty accurate way to describe “Masterminds” among the fall season’s various “based on a true story” offerings.

On its own, “Masterminds” is a decent comedy, even if everyone involved has done better work elsewhere. But next to all the serious options playing in theaters right now, “Masterminds” may be just the goofy change of pace you need.

“Masterminds” is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, some language and violence; running time: 94 minutes.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who appeared weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" from 2013 to 2016. He also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.

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