“Masterminds” will need a whole lot of dumb luck to turn around its fortunes.
Despite a mega-watt cast featuring Zach Galifianakis and a handful of some of “Saturday Night Live’s” biggest current and former stars, the comedy about Loomis Fargo robbery completely tanked at the box office in its opening weekend, bowing in sixth place with just $6.6 million.
That’s nearly $11 million less than former Kings Mountain resident David Ghantt (played by Galifianakis in the film) helped steal from the vault where he worked in Charlotte back in October 1997.
Part of the problem may have been critics, the majority of whom didn’t like what they saw; “Masterminds” has a weak 38 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But perhaps the larger issue is that the movie is overly silly, with writers Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer and Emily Spivey using the outline of the real story as inspiration for a script that they simply hoped would make audiences laugh.
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In real-life, Ghantt, then 27, used his access to swipe $17 million, later fleeing to Mexico with $25,000 of it stashed into the legs of pantyhose that he wore as a money belt; while he waited futilely for the woman who helped him plan the caper, his greedy co-conspirators and their friends and relatives proceeded to blow millions and, ultimately, their cover. At the time, it was the second-largest all-cash robbery in U.S. history.
The movie takes those broad strokes but then (pardon the pun) goes for broke. And based on a post-screening conversation with former Observer reporter Jeff Diamant – who wrote a detailed 279-page book about the occasionally funny but mostly just-plain fascinating crime, titled “Heist” – much of what wound up in the film is fiction.
“They obviously weren’t trying to ‘get it right’ – they were putting together what they believe is a better story,” said Diamant, whose book includes extensive interviews with Ghantt; Ghantt’s former co-worker and love interest Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig); the man hired to kill Ghantt (Jason Sudeikis); and others on both sides of the investigation.
“But as someone who covered it live, as someone who wrote an entire book about it, and who felt that the true story was extremely compelling and fascinating in and of itself, there’s part of me that would have preferred to see a movie that adhered to it more closely. ... Maybe someone out there thinks that’s still worth doing.”
Then again? “It was very entertaining,” Diamant said. “It was enjoyable.”
If you were one of the much-smaller-than-expected group of people who caught “Masterminds” at the theater this weekend, and are looking for a fact-check of the events depicted on screen, here are some of the highlights of our chat with Diamant. Alert: Obviously, spoilers abound.
In the movie: After hatching his get-rich-quick scheme, Chambers (played by Owen Wilson in the film) convinces Campbell to exploit Ghantt’s affection for her in getting the Loomis Fargo employee to agree to pull off the inside job.
In real life: Mostly true. There was in fact a basically similar conversation involving Chambers and Campbell that took place during a barbecue the Campbells were hosting. (The conversation was depicted as 100 percent private on screen).
In the movie: Campbell invites Ghantt to a restaurant under the auspices of a date, but then springs the idea of the heist on him, as Chambers and two associates join the conversation from an adjacent table without revealing their faces to Ghantt. Chambers tells Ghantt to refer to him only as “Geppetto.”
In real life: False. Ghantt was never in Chambers’s presence until he actually handed off the money to him.
In the movie: Ghantt’s fiancee, Jandice, is portrayed by Kate McKinnon as a nutjob of almost epic proportions that almost no one but fans of “Saturday Night Live” would find likeable.
In real life: False. Ghantt was already married when he took part in the heist, to a woman named Tammy – who author Diamant described as “very nice.” It is true, however, that she had no idea about the plot and that he fled to Mexico without telling her. “She was devastated,” Diamant said.
In the movie: During a sexually charged phone call, Campbell uses her powers of seduction to finally get Ghantt to agree to the plan as he sneaks behind the back of his fiancee.
In real life: False. Ghantt ultimately agreed to the plan, largely, due to a mountain of credit-card debt and in hopes of changing his life for the better.
In the movie: Ghantt and Campbell send pages to one another featuring the numbers “143” – which at the time of the existence of beepers was code for “I love you.”
In real life: True.
In the movie: Ghantt removes the tapes containing security-cam footage from all but one recording device.
In real life: True.
In the movie: Ghantt accidentally locks himself in the back of the van after he has it completely loaded with cash. He fits partway through a small opening between the cargo hold and the cab of the vehicle, enough to use the key to start the engine, but needs to duct-tape bricks of money together to reach the gas pedal. Upon doing so, the van crashes through the door of the loading dock and out onto the street, where he is freed by Campbell and Chambers.
In real life: False.
In the movie: Chambers’s wife, Michelle, pleads with Chambers to let her buy “just one” new item of clothing with their new fortune, and once he caves, they go on a lavish spending spree that culminates with the couple moving from their trailer home into a mansion.
In real life: True. Purchases included a pool table, jewelry (including a $43,000 diamond ring), a minivan, $20,000 worth of cigars, and the 7,000-square-foot home on the side of Cramer Mountain.
In the movie: From Mexico, Ghantt calls Campbell at a pay phone in Mecklenburg County every Tuesday and Thursday.
In real life: True.
In the movie: While talking to Campbell from Mexico, Ghantt discovers a gym membership card with Chambers’s name and photo on it, in a wallet that Chambers gave Campbell to give to Ghantt. It’s a revelation that gives Ghantt power over Chambers.
In real life: False. Ghantt knew Chambers as “Steve,” but didn’t find out that his last name was Chambers until the arrests were made.
In the movie: The Chambers family invites McKinney to their mansion and – after excusing their two young boys from the living room – Steve Chambers hires him to travel to Mexico to kill Ghantt.
In real life: Yes and no. Chambers did hire McKinney to kill Ghantt, but initially McKinney was making personal cash deliveries to Ghantt in Mexico on behalf of Chambers.
In the movie: As McKinney holds Ghantt captive in a bathtub and prepares to kill him, the hitman finds a driver’s license in Ghantt’s wallet that identifies Ghantt as “Michael McKinney.” That causes McKinney to believe they are “brothers” separated at birth; he decides not to kill Ghantt, and ends up going for a giddy, slow-motion run on the beach with Ghantt.
In real life: False. Ghantt was in fact hiding out in Mexico using McKinney’s I.D., which had been sold to Chambers months earlier. But McKinney never stopped trying to kill Ghantt – although, initally, McKinney thought Chambers had paid for the hit over “a drug deal gone bad,” Diamant said. When McKinney realized Ghantt was wanted for the Loomis Fargo robbery, he backed off personally because he didn’t want to be anywhere near a federal investigation. So he convinced a local hoodlum in Mexico to try to kill Ghantt. At one point, the hoodlum shows up and Ghantt is wearing a Jerome Bettis Pittsburgh Steelers jersey; the hoodlum’s favorite team is the Steelers, and he caves and tells Ghantt that McKinney wants him dead.
In the movie: After finding out that Chambers has been playing him the whole time, Ghantt threatens to turn Chambers in to authorities if he doesn’t wire him a large sum of cash.
In real life: False.
In the movie: While working her job at a department store, Ghantt’s fiancee crosses paths with Campbell as Campbell is trying on bathing suits as she prepares to join Ghantt in Mexico. The two immediately get into a knock-down, drag-out fight.
In real life: False.
In the movie: Ghantt and McKinney trade plane tickets at the airport, then beat up three Mexican law enforcement agents, then Ghantt returns to North Carolina, then he crashes a party at the Chambers’s mansion, where he rescues Campbell and gets Chambers to confess.
In real life: False. Chambers never held Campbell hostage by locking her in a shed on his property. The FBI, in fact, obtained the evidence they needed to bring down the major players, including Chambers, after catching them talking about the murder plot on the telephone via wiretap. Ghantt was apprehended in Mexico and returned to the United States in custody. So the last third of the movie is almost entirely fiction.