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‘Masterminds’ Critical Roundup: Criminal Comedy Doesn’t Quite Steal The Show

Jared Hess' much-delayed comedy heist film is snagging mixed reviews.

“Masterminds”

Packed with a star-studded cast, Jared Hess’ heist comedy “Masterminds” finally hits theaters at this weekend after months of push backs. Promising big laughs and high stakes, the film is based on the true story of the 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery, where David Scott Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis) and seven other conspirators stole $17 million from a Loomis, Fargo & Co. vault in North Carolina in one of company’s armored trucks, in what was one of the largest heist in U.S history.

The film stars Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Jason Sudeikis as members, accomplices and pursuers of the bumbling crime ring. “Masterminds” exaggerates the already absurdly true premise, and while most critics praised the cast’s performances, some aren’t coming along for the goofy criminal joyride.

IndieWire’s own Kate Erbland called the film “woefully unfunny,” writing: “In trying to make a true story that’s entertaining but essentially unfunny into some kind of slapstick comedy, complete with Jason Sudeikis as the world’s worst hitman and Kate McKinnon attacking Wiig in a discount department store and even a repeated gag about adult braces (why? why not!), ‘Masterminds’ goes for the lowest common denominator at every turn.”

READ MORE: ‘Masterminds’ Review: Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig and More Can’t Save This Painfully Unfunny Heist Film

Jordan Hoffman of The Guardian praised McKinnon’s performance, writing in his review that she’s “especially hard to dislike, because she reads each of her lines as if she’s being beamed in from outer space.” Nevertheless, she’s unable to save the movie, as he later writes: “She’s fun to watch when she appears on screen, but this still didn’t stop me from praying for a meteor to strike the screening room and put me out of my misery. The bad parts (eg most of the film) are really that bad.”

In his review for The New York Times, Glenn Kenny noticed the film appears more reined-in than Hess’ previous efforts, and added that, “The full-on goofiness is not reliably buoyant; this is an intermittently enjoyable but often choppy comic ride.”

In a more positive review, Dave White of The Wrap called it, “a friendly movie that exchanges belly laughs for occasional chuckles,” and added that one of the film’s successes is the fact that it’s “kinder to its characters than most comedies about the bumbling and under-educated.” He went on to say that Hess’ film are “stocked with wildly idiosyncratic human beings who long for something just out of their reach, and he can’t bring himself to be cruel to them. If the results are more gently amusing than hilarious, he seems fine with that.”

READ MORE: Watch: Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson & Zach Galifianakis Are Criminal ‘Masterminds’ In New Trailer For Jared Hess Comedy

Sheri Linden of The Hollywood Reporter wrote “the movie jumps from one bit to the next, its connective tissue disappointingly thin,” but also praised Hess’ treatment of the characters, adding that, “his main interest, as in previous efforts including ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ and ‘Nacho Libre,’ is in celebrating his characters’ awkwardness, an approach than can smack of condescension, however unintentional, when there’s so little beneath the nerdy surface.”

Variety’s Peter Debruge called it Hess’ “funniest film since ‘Napoleon Dynamite’” adding that the “improv-ready ensemble’s wit and Galifianakis’ own gift for physical humor that account for most of the laugh-out-loud moments, heightened by silly flourishes so eccentric (an assassin whose weapon of choice is an Alamo-era musket, a nose-whistling FBI informant resentful of his nouveau-riche neighbors) they could only be found in a Jared Hess movie.”

In a positive review of the film, Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com writes, “If smart dumb comedies hold a place in your heart, you’ll like ‘Masterminds.’” “The film is probably too long and sometimes too pleased with itself,” he continues, “and the structure and pacing are frustrating; not bad, just frustrating, because they prevent ‘Masterminds’ from becoming truly excellent instead of consistently amusing and occasionally inspired.” Despite this, he says, “the movie keeps serving you little grace notes that are probably unnecessary from a plot standpoint but make the whole experience richer.”

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