Lawrence Toppman

‘Masterminds:’ March of the merry morons

I have long thought there ought to be a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Gaston County, which has consistently been the butt of unfair jokes since I moved here 37 years ago.

If there were, the SPCGC would picket theaters showing the crassly funny “Masterminds.” It manages to make the Gaston-area participants in the 1997 Loomis Fargo heist seem even more imbecilic, clownish and inept than they were in reality.

Folks over 30 may recall that robbery, in which security guard David Ghantt took $17 million out of a Charlotte vault. He’s the only completely sympathetic character in the screenplay, and Zach Galifianakis gives him pathos to go along with butt jokes, bodily fluids and boorishness. (Why he uses a phony-sounding accent is anybody’s guess; he grew up in Wilkesboro. Of course, none of the other actors have Southern accents at all.)

In this telling, Ghantt falls for fellow security guard Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig), who gets fired for insubordination. Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson) talks her into getting this would-be boyfriend to grab the money, take a small amount to Mexico, then leave the rest behind. Ultimately, he sends sadistic hit man Mike McKinney (Jason Sudeikis) after Ghantt to safeguard his own skin.

Writers Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer and Emily Spivey start from facts and let their imaginations run wild. The movie’s conscience-stricken Campbell tries to help Ghantt and ends up falling for him; the real Campbell wanted Ghantt dead and kept tabs on him in Mexico, so McKinney could more easily decide when to shoot him.

Director Jared Hess has one great anarchic film in his past (“Napoleon Dynamite”) and a handful of features nobody saw. Here he’s a traffic cop, presiding over pratfalls and chases competently. Bits of welcome weirdness creep in, mainly through the too-brief character of Ghantt’s intense fiancée (Kate McKinnon). But Hess has little time for wit; it would distract from scenes like the one where Ghantt voids a spicy Mexican dinner into a swimming pool.

Though the movie was shot mainly in North Carolina, it stayed in the west: Asheville, Franklin, Swannanoa, Waynesville, Old Fort. I’m not sure Gaston County was even mentioned by name, though Campbell gives Ghantt a phone number with an accurate 865 prefix. But we know which part of the state is supposed to be the cage full of dimwitted monkeys, don’t we?

Toppman: 704-358-5232



Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Jones.

Director: Jared Hess.

Length: 94 minutes.

Rating: PG-13 (crude and sexual humor, some language and violence).

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