I am going to try a different kind of format with these reviews. This is mostly to help organize my reviews a bit better and keep everything concise and neat.
With two comedic misfires (critically and financially), I can only hope that Zach Galifianakis has built up enough goodwill so that it will not affect him too much. Any time I see Zach in the public or doing interviews (of which he does less than you would expect someone in his position to do), he seems down to earth and friendly along with being fairly humble. I don’t like to see someone with such talent get squandered because of an occasional failure or two so I can only hope that he bounces back and finds something strong to salvage his career. Now the question is: am I “joining the bandwagon” with the critics or, much like Masterminds, did I find it to be an underrated film?
The film concerns the story of a young suburban couple played by Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher. Zach is a Human Resources representative working for M.B.I., some top-secret government building where he pretty much lets anyone use his computer because no one can use them “upstairs” with all the top-secret material that goes through the building. Isla is an interior designer of some sort and usually works from home. After their new neighbours (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) move in, suspicions are raised when they don’t quite fit in to this quaint suburban lifestyle. Who is this new couple? What are their intentions? Are they spying on the neighbourhood?
This is the movie’s biggest flaw. While I thought that the premise of the plot was enough to garner interest along with the cast and even the director, the writing was really where this whole thing came crumbling down. While Galifianakis is good enough to elicit mild chuckles due to his delivery, there just isn’t any inherent funny situations or real strong jokes throughout most of its 95-minute runtime. The characters of Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Galifianakis & Fisher) are presented as such cardboard cut-out characters that we’ve seen in so many other movies that nothing really surprises or entertains beyond the natural charisma and comic timing of the actors.
The actual plot itself is problematic as well. The worst part is that we know the destination we’re headed to almost immediately. The big reveal is only about halfway into the movie and then from there, the plot just flatlines as we have nowhere to really go in order to amp up the excitement. There is another reveal later but since it is surrounding a character we barely know anything about, it doesn’t really have any kind of lasting impact. I am actually surprised at the writing in this film overall considering that director Greg Mottola has a history of working with great writers on terrific comedies like Superbad, Adventureland and Paul. It is a rare misfire for him.
The film is strongest when they just let the actors do their thing. Zach Galifianakis is always good as the put-upon affable, socially awkward lead and he certainly does his best here. He manages to wring some laughs out of some non-funny lines and that’s a testament to his talent. Isla Fisher gets less to do than him but doesn’t get totally left out in the dark either. She has some good chemistry with Zach and it also helps that her comic timing is just as good as his sensibilities. Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot are another story. While Hamm is charming and talented and Gadot is sultry and gorgeous, they are almost ripped from another movie. Both are talented actors but when it comes to a full-on comedy like this, their talents were not utilized in the most effective manner. We have seen Hamm do some very funny work in things like 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live but those were usually him playing the straight man or the joke laid in his serious demeanour. It just doesn’t work here even though they were both fairly believable as a couple. Gadot is someone else who is a talented performer but I feel like her strengths lie in the dramatic rather than comedic work.
With a movie like this, there isn’t a whole lot to say about the technical side of things. I will say that it was a weird editing choice to reveal so much so early into the film (it’s not a spoiler to say that we learn about Hamm & Gadot being spies about 5-10 minutes after we meet them) and it creates a weak launching point for the rest of the film. Mottola’s direction is also pretty lackluster and we never really get a sense of fun that he brought to his previous films except for maybe a break-in scene involving Zach and Isla. Even a later shootout scene is shot in such a way that I found it acted more like a necessity to the plot than a fun action sequence.
It’s not completely awful but it’s not a great way to spend your time either. All the actors in this film have seen better days (well, Batman vs. Superman was terrible but Gadot was one of the best parts of it) and Mottola has directed far stronger films.
FINAL RATING: **
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)