When Relativity Media -- the production company/distributor behind Masterminds, the newest vehicle for Zach Galifianakis to do his painfully committed schtick -- started getting press, co-founder/co-CEO Ryan Kavanaugh boasted of his secret sauce for success. A proprietary risk-evaluation algorithm was supposed to take the guesswork out of financing, thereby delivering movies that hit their exact projected gross every time. Kavanaugh's flagship hit: Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
Masterminds attempts to spearhead Relativity's big comeback -- which is counterintuitive, because it's a film directed by Jared Hess, best known for the divisive cult objects Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre. The results are too loopy for the multiplex.
In 1997, David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis) and some dimwitted confederates pulled off the second-largest cash heist ($17.3 million) in U.S. history up to that point. The facts are concisely outlined on Wikipedia and adhered to in the loosest possible way by the film, whose tone runs with the unkind title the caper earned in the press: "the hillbilly heist." Lured with the false promise of sex by co-worker Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig), Ghantt is roped into a motley crew of small-time losers led by Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson) and subsequently hung out to dry when things go sour.
Galifianakis leans hard into the part; frames are often symmetrical, with each junkshop prop placed for maximum visibility, like a junkyard parody of Wes Anderson filtered through Sears photography shot by a filmmaker with a class chip on his shoulder. The romantic plotline combines two deplorable tropes: the attractive woman who leverages her sexuality to lead good men astray and the "nice guy" who wins her over by just being such a goshdarn persistent puppy.