Masterminds

For F*** Magazine

MASTERMINDS

Director : Jared Hess
Cast : Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Ken Marino
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1h 35min
Opens : 3 November 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Sexual References)

masterminds-posterMost movies and TV shows would have you believe that criminals need meticulous, elaborate planning to get away with grand larceny. It turns out that some real-life criminals who weren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer made out with a whole lot of cash. This is their story (with additions in the name of comedic license that we trust are minor in nature).

It is 1997, and David Ghantt (Galifianakis) is an armoured car driver working for cash handling company Loomis Fargo. He is engaged to Jandice (McKinnon), but his true affections lie with his colleague Kelly Campbell (Wiig). When Kelly’s friend Steve Chambers (Wilson) hatches a plot to rob the Loomis Fargo vault, they rope David in to do the actual dirty work of making away with the cash. The robbery is a success and David escapes to Mexico, leaving the bulk of the cash with Steve. However, Steve intends to double-cross David, and hires a hitman named Mike McKinney (Sudeikis) to take care of David. Meanwhile, FBI special agent Scanlon (Jones) is hot on the trail of the thieves. With their extravagant spending, Steve and his wife Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) aren’t exactly lying low.

Masterminds is, incredibly enough, based on a true story. The perpetrators stole a staggering $17.3 million, approximately $2 million of which is still unaccounted for. The direction taken by director Jared Hess, best known for cult comedy Napoleon Dynamite, is full-tilt silliness. While said silliness does yield some laughs, it also detracts from the ‘this really happened’ quotient, leaving the realm of strange-but-true and entering the land of over-the-top slapstick hijinks. With jokes that seem like they were written in a hurry, set pieces that are big but not overly complicated and an assortment of wigs and goofy facial hair, Masterminds is wont to remind audiences of Saturday Night Live. Most of the cast members are SNL alums, and SNL creator Lorne Michaels is a producer. Like SNL these days, Masterminds is a hit and miss affair.

masterminds-kristen-wiig-and-zach-galifianakis

Hess has wrangled a talented, funny cast. This might not be a highlight of any of their résumés, but because the actors seem to be having a fair amount of fun, the audience does too. David is a standard-issue Galifianakis character: the well-intentioned doofus. There’s more bodily function humour than there needs to be and we get a nigh-inordinate amount of Galifianakis bumping into or dropping things, but Galifianakis is charming enough. Maybe “charming” isn’t the right word, but you catch our drift.

masterminds-owen-wilson-and-kristen-wiig

Kelly Chambers seems like a role Jennifer Aniston would be great at playing, which is not a knock on Wiig. Wiig is often cast as awkward, endearing women, and in this film she’s entertainingly brazen and confident. Wilson plays a character with a sinister bent, which is slightly outside his wheelhouse, but not too much is asked of him.

masterminds-jason-sudeikis-and-zach-galifianakis

Sudeikis’ inept hitman is a scene-stealer, but one can’t help but think that the filmmakers missed an opportunity here. If it were an actor not known for his comedic chops, perhaps one closely identified with the action/thriller genres, it would be more novel and surprising. McKinnon’s role is relatively small, but she does provide a healthy number of laughs, playing a somewhat creepy, unbalanced woman. The presence of Jones as a no-nonsense Fed means that three out of four of the reboot Ghostbusters are present and accounted for. Bit of a shame that all three don’t share a scene together, or that Melissa McCarthy doesn’t get a cameo. Ken Marino is at the centre of the film’s most inspired visual gag.

masterminds-kate-mckinnon-and-zach-galifianakis

The film was pushed back a year because of Relativity Pictures’ financial woes. Masterminds doesn’t seem like something everyone was clamouring for, but it ends up being inconsequential rather than egregiously bad. This story of working class folk from North Carolina robbing a bank and getting away with it would make for great satire, but Masterminds settles for the most obvious low-hanging fruit at every turn. That’s not to say it’s completely unfunny, but it is unsatisfying. It’s hard to shake the feeling of “is that it?” as the film concludes.masterminds-leslie-jones

Summary: Even with its funny cast, Masterminds is middling rather than brilliant, passing up incisive social commentary for lazy humour. We will admit to laughing more than a few times, though.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Goosebumps

For F*** Magazine

GOOSEBUMPS

Director : Rob Letterman
Cast : Jack Black, Odeya Rush, Amy Ryan, Dylan Minnette, Ryan Lee, Ken Marino, Halston Sage
Genre : Horror/Adventure
Opens : 29 October 2015
Rating : PG (Frightening Scenes)
A malicious menagerie of monsters is tearing free of the confines of the written page in this comedy-horror adventure. Zach (Minnette) and his mother Gale (Ryan) move from New York to Madison, Delaware, where his mother is taking up a position as the new vice-principal at the local high school. Zach befriends his neighbour Hannah (Rush), daughter of the secretive children’s horror author R.L. Stine (Black). Stine makes it clear that he wants Zach to stay away from Hannah, but Zach suspects that Hannah might be in danger from her father. Together with his new friend from school, goofy misfit Champ (Lee), Zach breaks into Stine’s house and unlocking the original Goosebumps manuscripts, unwittingly unleashes sheer havoc. It turns out that the creatures Stine has written about actually exist, with the sinister ventriloquist’s dummy Slappy (voiced by Black) leading the charge. It is up to Stine, Hannah, Zach and Champ to re-capture them and save the town from supernatural devastation. 
Robert Lawrence Stine’s Goosebumps series is massively successful and something of a cultural touchstone, spanning 62 books, numerous spin-offs and a TV show. Combining the spooky and the funny, many kids who were in middle school in the 90s regard Goosebumps as a nostalgic favourite. After a feature film adaptation failed to materialise in the late 90s with Tim Burton attached to produce, we finally have a Goosebumps movie. The screenplay, re-written by Darren Lemke from a draft by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, takes a tongue-in-cheek meta-fictional approach. The germ of the idea, with a fictionalised Stine trying to wrangle his creations after they’ve run amok, is a clever starting point and also lets the filmmakers cram all the fan-favourite characters, from the Mummy of Prince Kho-Ru to Murder the Clown to the giant praying mantis, into the movie. 
Apart from a pretty neat central twist, things go very predictably indeed. Goosebumps does what it says on the tin: there are laughs and tame scares and an okay, if not great, time is to be had by all. It does feel like a Disney Channel original movie with marginally better production values, and despite some moments of meta humour, it’s very formulaic. The visual effects lack polish and many of the CGI-created creatures are far from convincing. Perhaps the reasoning is that kids won’t be too picky about that sort of thing, but then again, kids today are used to the level of visual effects seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. The most effectively creepy monster is Slappy the Dummy himself, and it is a good move to have him as the evil mastermind. This is due in no small part to the fact that Slappy is a physical puppet instead of a synthetic digital critter. Presumably a vestige of Burton’s involvement, there’s composer Danny Elfman doing a spot of self-parody with a very Elfman-y score indeed.
The cast of characters is as standard for a kid-aimed adventure flick as they come: there’s the new kid, the girl he has a crush on, the goofy best friend, the well-meaning, sometimes-embarrassing mum, the adult with a mysterious secret that the kids uncover, etc. Minnette is not spectacularly interesting to watch, but he doesn’t project that self-conscious “I’m so cool” vibe most teen actors have. Rush is very appealing, looking more and more like Mila Kunis each time she appears in a new movie. Lee has been typecast as the dorky kid, but we’ll be darned if he isn’t the complete embodiment of that trope. 
Of course, the big draw is Black, whose Stine starts out creepy but eventually becomes more sympathetic as we root for him to regain control over the terrifying denizens that populate his books. Stine’s contempt for another famous horror author is the source of some of the movie’s funniest jokes. Goosebumps reunites Black with director Rob Letterman, who also helmed Gulliver’s Travels. Thankfully, Goosebumps is less cringe-worthy than Gulliver’s Travels. Black’s having fun, but doesn’t go too over the top. Black also voices Slappy and the Invisible Boy – his delivery as Slappy is a cross between the Crypt-Keeper and Mark Hamill’s Joker, distinctive and entertaining. 
Genuinely enjoyable kids’ adventure flicks such as The Goonies, Monster Squad and of course E.T.: The Extraterrestrial have kind of gone out of fashion, with young adult novel adaptations taking their place. Super 8, in which Lee also had a role, is probably the closest we’ve come to that in recent years. Goosebumps falls short of that magic, but it’s evident that the filmmakers do have a fondness for the source material and with this premise, they manage to wrap their arms around the vast number of stories in the book series and capture that overall spirit amiably. It’s hard to argue with the appeal of Jack Black trying to wrest a killer gnome off his face. Look out for the R(ea)L Stine himself in a cameo towards the end of the movie. 
Summary: Goosebumps is largely an unremarkable, generic kids’ adventure, but the target demographic will be entertained and the meta-fictional approach does work. 
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong