If you're like me, you're probably in the mood for a good stupid movie comedy right about now. Something with inspired players and a full commitment to its own mindlessness. "Masterminds" isn't quite that movie — it's weird-stupid more than good-stupid — but it'll have to do.
It's enthusiastic, though — you have to give it that. "Masterminds" represents a fusion of three distinct strands of film comedy: the Apatovian bro-farce (Zach Galifianakis and Owen Wilson are in the cast), the "Saturday Night Live" party mix (so are Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Jason Sudeikis), and the deadpan indie freakshow pioneered by "Napoleon Dynamite" (2004), whose director, Jared Hess, is behind the camera here.
These ingredients slop together more amiably than you'd think. "Masterminds" is a heist comedy, subgenre Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, and it's based on a true story, not that that matters. Galifianakis plays the patsy, David Ghantt, a priss of an armored-car driver whose Prince Valiant haircut and general outlook on life are stuck in a late-'70s time warp. He's engaged (to McKinnon's Jandice) but carrying a torch for the movie's low-rent version of a femme fatale, Kelly, played by Wiig under a wig.
Encouraged by Steve (Wilson), a sleazy charmer, Kelly vamps David into robbing the armored-car company's vaults; our hero is then packed off to Mexico with $20,000 in his tighty-whities while the rest of the gang remains up north to spend the loot and come apart at the seams.
That presents a problem "Masterminds" never fully solves — how to keep the comic momentum going when your leads are in two different places. At least the gambit allows director Hess to do what he does best, which is indulge his strange love-hate-amusement for all things Mexican. The characters south of the border are allowed to seem human this time around, rather than found-object cartoons. I guess that's progress.
The actors are more than game, and Hess pushes the comedy into unexpected corners and over the top. I won't soon forget the sight of Galifianakis's David disguised in a long blond wig and snake contact lenses. (He "looks like Jesus and a cat had a baby," says Kelly.) Wiig coasts without enough to do; and Wilson and Leslie Jones (as the investigating agent on the case) play engagingly within their established personas. Sudeikis as a friendly hired killer puts most of his performance into his hair. McKinnon's crazy-eye facial contortions continue to be funny — for now.
I'm not sure, but this may be Hess's last shot at a Hollywood career, given that his follow-ups to "Napoleon Dynamite" have ranged from the inconsequential ("Nacho Libre," 2006) to the unwatchable ("Gentlemen Broncos," 2009). The big-league cast makes a difference, though — they pop Hess out of his uninflected rut of trailer-park surrealism and keep it from turning smug.
Above all, they throw themselves into the physical slapstick and gross-out gags with gusto. "Masterminds" is the first of Hess's freakshows where the freaks are allowed to be in on the joke; the results are less unique but more bearable. And, yes, seen in the right mood, with the right crowd, stupid-funny enough to do the trick.
Directed by Jared Hess. Written by Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer, and Emily Spivey. Starring Zack Gaifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 107 minutes. PG-13 (crude and sexual humor, some language and violence).