Sometimes, Hollywood uses the real names, real places, and real companies when it makes movies about historic events. Often, when filmmakers resort to the trite phrase ‘based on a true story,’ it is reason enough for us as moviegoers to suspect that everything about the film is phony from fade-in to fade-out. The long-awaited, true-crime, comedy of errors, heist caper “Masterminds” (*** OUT OF ****) is probably something that Loomis Fargo & Company would love to forget. In October 1997, a Loomis employee stole over $17 million in cash from the regional office vault in its Charlotte, North Carolina, facility, making this robbery the third largest cash haul in American history. If this weren’t devastating enough, Loomis had earlier lost a bundle in March 1997, when another of its employees disarmed two co-workers and then pilfered over $18 million in Jacksonville, Florida! At the time, the Jacksonville hold-up was the second largest cash robbery in America. Interestingly enough, although neither robbery was related, the Jacksonville thief stashed his loot in North Carolina. Surely, this treachery constitutes the kind of publicity that would make stockholders cringe in horror and competitors chuckle in amusement. Indeed, “Napoleon Dynamite” director Jared Hess and “Hangover” star Zach Galifianakis not only thought the Charlotte robbery was ideal material for a hysterical, goofball farce, but they also pulled out all stops to ensure sidesplitting hilarity. When you’re not snickering at Galifianakis’ screwball shenanigans as real-life armored car employee David Ghantt, you’ll be laughing out loud at Ghantt’s duplicitous accomplices who double-crossed him along with the Keystone Kops antics of both the FBI and the Mexican Federal Police. Unlike the far superior but hopelessly macabre Coen Brothers’ epic “Fargo,” purportedly based on a genuine incident which later was exposed as apocryphal, “Masterminds” qualifies as featherweight, PG-13 rated, nonsense that cheerfully ridicules its Tar Heel robbers as much as it skewers its clueless law enforcement officials.
Zach Galifianakis met David Scott Ghantt before he made the movie, and described him as “a very sweet guy” in an interview with the show-biz daily “Variety.” Basically, Galifianakis portrays our protagonist as a ‘Barney Fife’ type. He is such an imbecile that he blasts a hole in the seat of his pants while he tries to holster his service revolver at a gunnery range. For the record, David couldn’t hit a barn with a single bullet if he were standing inside it. David drives a small truck, but the driver’s side door is a rectangle of wood attached to the door frame by house hinges. Until he hightails it to Mexico after the hold-up, David dresses in a short-sleeved uniform shirt and knee-length breeches so that he resembles an overgrown pageboy. His hair flounces around his shoulders like Prince Valiant, and he sports a full beard like King Arthur. Memorable comic characters must always appear idiotic because incongruity is the source of all humor. At one point, FBI Agent Scanlon (Leslie Jones of “Ghostbusters”) refers to David contemptuously as the love child of Kenny Rogers and Kenny Loggins. Mentally, David is portrayed as a patsy. Sexy Loomis Armored co-worker Kelly Campbell (Kristin Wigg of “Ghostbusters”) manipulates this affection starved rube into committing armed robbery. Little does dim-witted David know that the man behind seductive Kelly is avaricious Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson of “Wedding Crashers”) who has been bugging Kelly to capitalize on David’s infatuation with her. Meantime, our dubious hero is engaged to a humorless dame appropriately named Jandice (Kate McKinnon of “Ghostbusters”) who lives with her mother in a trailer. Virtually everybody in “Masterminds’’ is trailer trash. Compared with Jandice, Kelly is a whirlwind of ideas and ambitions.
Shamelessly, Kelly exploits David, but she relents later after she realizes how sweet David is on her. First, David piles $17 million into the back of a Loomis van. Second, through an oversight on his part, he destroys all but one of several surveillance cameras on the premises and confiscates the VHS tapes. While he is packing the bills into the van, he manages quite by accident to lock himself up inside it. Unable to extricate himself from the rear compartment, he relies on duct tape to stick enough stacks of currency together so he can mash down the gas pedal. Steve and Kelly are astonished when they see the Loomis van launch itself out of the warehouse like a Polaris missile and slam into a nearby ditch. Steve and his accomplices shield their faces and scramble to unload the vehicle. Since their first meeting in a country restaurant, Steve has carefully avoided letting David see his face. Once they’ve stashed the swag, Kelly stuffs $20 thousand in bills in David’s jockey shorts. She disguises him in a long, blond wig that makes him look like a fruitcake, and he flies away to Mexico. Little does David know that Steve plans to cut him out of his shares after he identifies him to the authorities. Although he struggles to conceal his new found fortune, Steve screws up royally when his wife and he embark on a spending spree and buy a palatial mansion.
Like his previous movies, including “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Gentle Broncos,” and “Nacho Libre,” Hess delivers exactly the same kind of bizarre comedy. Clocking in at a 95 trim minutes, “Masterminds” unwinds like a succession of “Saturday Night Live” skits bristling with sight-gags, down-home dialects, and clownish stereotypes (Hispanics may take offense.) Hess is a master of whimsical comedy, and his timing is impeccable. Moviegoers born after 1997 may marvel at how people communicated on mammoth hand-held phones and walkie-talkies. Galifianakis steals every scene with his outlandish costumes, until Jason Sudeikis shows up in an amusing supporting role as the kooky assassin that Steve sends to eliminate David. Leslie Jones’ FBI agent will keep you in stitches, while Kate McKinnon is terrific as his fiancée. A spoof of armored car thrillers as much as film noir melodramas about puny-minded males, “Masterminds” will make you hoot and holler.