Saturday, November 12, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: Masterminds

Note: This film's probably long gone from every local cineplex at this point, but I sat through it, I wrote a review and by god I'm gonna post it.

Masterminds was written by Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer and Emily Spivey. Wow! It took three whole people to write this thing! It was directed by Jared Hess.

This appears to be the first theatrical screenplay for all three writers, who've all worked in TV prior to this. 

Hess previously directed Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre and Gentlemen Broncos. Eh, two out of three decent films ain't bad. I'll let you figure out which one of the three I didn't care for.

I saw this film during the vast wasteland of the October Movie Season, so I was expecting another horribly unfunny turd of a comedy. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a fairly decent little film. It's not a classic by any means, but it actually made me laugh a few times, which is more than I can say for most comedies these days (I'm lookin' at you, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 and Mortdecai). How's that for an endorsement? Think they'll want to use that on the poster?

The film's based on the real life Loomis Fargo bank robbery that took place in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1997. Long-time readers of my blog know all too well that I'm not a fan of such movies. "True stories" and "Biopics" are usually altered so heavily for dramatic purposes that they end up being practically unrecognizable. Amazingly, that's not the case here. As bizarre as it seems, this is a fairly accurate retelling of the event!

Masterminds was scheduled to debut in August of 2015, then pushed back to October 2015. It was pulled from the schedule indefinitely before finally premiering in September 2016. Such constant delays are almost always a sign to stay far, far away from the cineplex. In this case though the delays were due to the fact that Relativity Media, the studio that produced the film, filed for bankruptcy. Apparently they got their issues worked out, and the film was finally released in September 2016.

Jim Carrey was originally cast as Steve Chambers, the "mastermind" behind the robbery. He ended up dropping out and was replaced by Owen Wilson.
The scenes that supposedly took place in Mexico were actually filmed in Puerto Rico, most likely because the cast didn't want to be beheaded by drug lords. HEY, HEY, settle down! You know you were all thinking the same thing! Lighten up!

SPOILERS FOR A MOVIE BASED ON A TRUE STORY:

The Plot:
In 1997, David Ghantt (played by Zach Galifianakis) lives a dull, everyday life as an armored car driver with the Loomis Fargo Bank. He's engaged to Jandice (played by Kate McKinnon), an odd, strangely sedate woman that David's obviously settled for. That all changes when he meets Kelly Campbell (played by Kristen Wiig), a new employee of Loomis. The two hit it off and become fast friends.

David is devastated when Kelly's fired after a few months. He asks for her phone number and she gives it to him, absentmindedly adding the numbers 1-4-3 to the end. When he asks what the numbers mean, she says it's sort of "her thing," as they stand for "I love you." 1 = I, 4 = love, 3 = you, get it?

Kelly moves in with her friend Steve Chambers (played by Owen Wilson) and his wife Michelle (!). Steve sees a news report of an armored car robbery on TV, and comes up with a plan to do the same. Steve knows Kelly worked at Loomis Fargo with David, and sees an opportunity. Steve remains behind the scenes and gets Kelly to use her feminine wiles to manipulate David into robbing an armored car. David, who's now completely infatuated with Kelly (due to the accidental 1-4-3 thing), agrees.

A few days later, David leaves work, then sneaks back in a few minutes later. He opens the Loomis vault and begins loading a van with as much money as he can stuff in the back. He then steals the security tapes (except for one), and drives off with the cash. He meets Steve and his gang a few miles away, and they transfer the money to several cars and ditch the van.

Back at Steve's house, they count up the money, and are shocked to find it adds up to $17 million. They hide the cash in dozens of plastic drums and store them in a shed. Per the plan, Kelly gives David several thousand dollars and he flies to Mexico, where he'll hide out until the heat's off. He and Kelly will communicate by pay phone, and she'll periodically send him more money until it's safe for him to return and they can be married.

Meanwhile, FBI Agent Scanlon (played by Leslie Jones) and her partner are on the case. They find the security tape David forgot to destroy, and quickly realize he's the one who stole the money. They visit Jandice, but she has no idea where David might have gone.

Steve is adamant to keep a low profile and not spend any of the stolen money, since a display of sudden wealth will look suspicious. He holds out for a few days before succumbing to his greed, and he and his wife go on a lavish and bizarre spending spree. They even buy a mansion and stock it with tasteless and tacky geegaws. When Steve finds out the FBI is involved, he tells Kelly to cut David off and leave him stranded in Mexico like a sap.

David stays at a hotel in Mexico for a while, until three Interpol agents show up looking for him. He manages to escape and goes on the run, donning a crude and unconvincing disguise. Somehow he finds Steve's wallet in his jacket (?) and realizes he's the mastermind behind the plan. He calls Kelly and mentions he knows Steve's identity. When Steve finds out, he worries that David will turn them all in.

Steve then hires hitman Mike McKinney (played by Jason Sudeikis) to kill David. Mike hunts down David in Mexico. Just as he's about to kill him, he discovers that Steve apparently used Mike's name and info to create a fake ID for David (this whole sequence was a bit confusing and made little sense, but let's just roll with it or we'll be here all day). Believing that David has the exact same name and background as he does, he can't bring himself to kill him. The two become fast friends.

Meanwhile, Scanlon links David to Kelly. She visits Kelly, who breaks down and confesses the whole plan. David then calls Steve and demands he send more money, or he'll turn himself into the authorities and give them the names of everyone involved. Steve has one of his goons kidnap Kelly, so she can't turn him in.

David calls Steve again, demanding to know where his money is. Steve says there'll be no money, and to go to South America and hide out there, or he'll hurt Kelly. When David hears this, he makes his way back to the States to rescue Kelly.

Back in America, Steve is holding a garish house party. David infiltrates it and rescues Kelly from the shed. He and Kelly steal Steve's brand new BMW and try to bust through the gate, but it's apparently made of adamantium and they crash into it. Steve catches up to David and begins beating him. David sees Scanlon hiding in a disguised FBI van, recording everything said at the party. David tricks Steve into admitting that he was the brains behind the whole sorry plan. This gives Scanlon enough evidence to arrest him.

Several weeks later, David and Kelly say goodbye before going to serve their respective prison sentences. When David gets to prison, he's shocked when the inmates give him a standing ovation for singlehandedly committing the largest armored car robbery in U.S. history. Seven years later Steve's released and reunited with Kelly.

A caption claims that $2 million of the money was never found, implying that David Ghantt may have hidden it somewhere...

Thoughts:
• It's tough to nitpick comedies, since their humorous situations are usually fairly removed from reality. This one's more grounded than most, but there's still not a lot to talk about, so this'll be brief.

• The film had trouble settling on a title. It was original called Loomis Fargo, which was horrible, and then Armored Car, which was just as bad. Even Masterminds, the title they finally settled on, isn't all that great.

• The movie's set in 1997, and I honestly did not realize that until I was researching it for my review. I just assumed everyone was wearing outdated clothes and had strange hairdos because they were oddballs— sort of like the characters in Napoleon Dynamite, who seemed to exist in some vague, timeless world.

• Masterminds features three fourths of the stars of the all female Ghostbusters film. As you no doubt know by now, I hated Ghostbusters 2016, and thought the four main actresses were all horribly unfunny and grating.

Guess what? I actually liked them here. Imagine that. I guess the lesson here is they can be funny when they're given decent material and reigned in by a competent director. Take that, Paul Feig, you talentless, improvisation-loving hack!

• As I mentioned earlier, Masterminds is based on a true story. Hard as it is to believe, most of the events in the film actually happened. Sure, they tweaked a few things a bit and exaggerated others for comedic effect, but overall it's a surprisingly accurate account.

David Ghantt really did work for Loomis Fargo and really was in love with Kelly Campbell. In reality though he was already married when he met Kelly. I'm assuming the movie changed this detail to make David more sympathetic.

Steve Chambers really did use Kelly Campbell to talk David into robbing Loomis Fargo. David really did stuff an astonishing $17 million into the back of an armored car. 

David didn't lock the keys in the armored car as he did in the film though, but the reality was almost as bad. He locked the armored car, then dropped his massive key ring that held a whopping two hundred keys. Having no idea which one opened the armored car, he had to try almost all two hundred of them before finding the proper one.
In the movie David was arrested at Steve's mansion, but in reality it happened at a resort in Mexico. David ended up serving seven and a half years in prion. Oddly enough, his attorney got eight years for money laundering charges! Steve Chambers ended up serving an eleven year sentence.

The FBI recovered ninety five percent of the money, and just like in the movie, $2 million of it was never found. I'm sure David Ghantt has no earthly idea where it went.

Masterminds isn't a great film, but it's a decent little comedy that made me laugh a couple times, which is a rarity these days. It's also a surprisingly accurate account of a very bizarre case. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually kind of liked it, and I give it a B-.

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