Cash Money Homies

Masterminds

by George Wolf

Does Masterminds carry the stench of death? Let’s go to the evidence.

This film has been on the shelf for over a year despite impressive comic talent, and that cast may be the only thing keeping the film from straight-to-video status. It finally opens this week, with little fanfare in a crowded field, and features a blooper reel that can’t wait to push the actual film out of the way and get going.

In other words, we doubt you laughed much for the previous 90 minutes, how ’bout some funny outtakes as you leave?

Strong case, counselor, but in the words of master litigator Jules Winfield, “Allow me to retort!”

Masterminds is not horrible.

It’s actually based on the true events of a 1997 bank heist that scored 17 million dollars (2 million of which is still missing). If you think the director of Napoleon Dynamite is an odd choice to direct this story, you’re correct, and Jared Hess delivers a very odd, haphazardly funny movie.

Zach Galifiankis is a trailer-park livin’ armored truck driver engaged to Kate McKinnon (their announcement shots are a riot) but pining for his co-worker Kristin Wiig, who becomes the bait in Owen Wilson’s scheme to get the cash. Once the job is pulled, Zach waits south of the border for Wiig to join him (“I had to get a disguise, I look like Gene Shalit!”), while Wilson dispatches hitman Jason Sudeikis to hunt Zach down in Mexico. Meanwhile FBI agent Leslie Jones looks for clues and a jealous McKinnon attacks Wiig with a giant tube of feminine cream.

Long stretches where you aren’t laughing are suddenly broken up by a randomly uproarious gag (see tube of feminine cream above), and the veteran cast always makes it watchable despite the extreme absurdity. McKinnon steals scenes with facial expressions alone while Zach and Sudeikis engage in battles of improvised strangeness.

So ladies and gentlemen of the jury consider: this film will sink quickly and quietly from the multiplex, then slowly grow once it hits the video and streaming market.

As Zach says, “Brace your boobies,” Masterminds may be a cult favorite in waiting,

Verdict-2-5-Stars

 

 

Not Quite Dynamite

Don Verdean

by Hope Madden

A self-proclaimed biblical archeologist somehow finds holy artifacts that have eluded the scientific and theological community for centuries – millennia, even – and brings them home to the US of A to help one Utah pastor reinvigorate his flock.

A ripe premise, that. The fact that the archeologist is played by Sam Rockwell, and the pastor by Danny McBride, only heightens the possibilities. On top of that, Don Verdean was directed by Jared Hess, co-written with his wife Jerusha, the team responsible for Napoleon Dynamite.

This should definitely work better than it does.

On paper, Don Verdean is a hoot. Add to the capable leads and a satire-rich premise the outstanding supporting cast. Amy Ryan offers an understated tenderness and humor as Don’s faithful assistant Carol, and Leslie Bibb is a stitch in her too-small role as Joylinda Lazarus, former prostitute, current pastor’s wife.

But Jemaine Clement could face criminal charges for the way he steals scenes as Verdean’s man on the ground in the Holy Land, Boaz.

The pieces are there, but the execution is way off. Hess’s film is too sweetly, compassionately cynical for its own good. What humor the film offers is frustratingly laid back, and far too often a tart comedic set up suffers from weak follow through.

The Hesses don’t seem to have the teeth for religious satire. Is Verdean a huckster or a soft but decent man led astray by Satan’s earthly influence, greed? Or is everyone in the film just suffering from idiocy and whimsy in equal measure?

Most disheartening of all is the misuse of Rockwell, who also executive produces. His performance is so low key as to be sleep inducing.

Rockwell and Clement co-starred in the Hesses’ previous effort, Gentlemen Broncos, which was far weirder than it was funny. For their next film they dialed down the weird a bit, but the comedy itself is even more subdued.

That’s unfortunate, because they may have really had something if they’d known what to do with it.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

They’re Back

Poltergeist

by Hope Madden

Thirty three years ago, Steven Spielberg unleashed two tales of supernatural contact in anonymous, suburban neighborhoods. Things went better for Elliott.

Between producer Spielberg’s sense of awe and director Tobe Hooper’s capacity for imaginative terror, the original Poltergeist far exceeded expectations, and though several sequences have not aged well, it remains a potent horror show.

A generation later, we return to Glen Echo Circle, now the victim of a downturned economy, as are the Bowens. Sam Rockwell and Rosemary DeWitt play the parents unwillingly relocating their three kids to the neighborhood to accommodate their now-more-modest means. Their son Griffin (Kyle Catlett) doesn’t like his room because of the creepy tree outside, but little Maddie (adorable Kennedi Clements) is already making friends.

This is a tough film to remake. The original combined superficial thrills with primal fears and offered the giddy mix of Spielberg’s wonder and Hooper’s twisted vision. Wisely, director Gil Kenan started with a solid cast.

Rockwell is always a good bet and DeWitt is fast becoming the go-to for authenticity in the suburban mom role. Jared Hess offers a little panache as the medium who cleans houses, and the supporting performers turn in respectable work.

Kenan can’t seem to decide whether or not to embrace the original’s more iconic moments, and his revisions feel more like obligation than inspiration. What his version lacks is a big punch. He’s hampered by audience expectation – we kind of know what’s coming, after all – but that doesn’t excuse his lack of imagination.

The director proved a savvy storyteller with his Oscar-nominated animated nightmare Monster House, a film that was surprisingly terrifying for a kids’ movie. That kind of exuberance could have infected this production, but the sequel lacks energy.

Poltergeist is not a bad movie, just disappointing. A lot of reboots are, but there are some that feel like one filmmaker’s love letter to a movie. Films like The Ring, The Crazies, Dawn of the Dead, and more recently, Evil Dead work as reboots because they inhabited an old story but found a new voice. Kenan doesn’t find his. The result is entertaining and forgettable.

Verdict-2-5-Stars