Too bad ‘Masterminds’ wastes one of the year’s best comedy casts

The comedic talents of Kristen Wiig and Zach Galifianakis are wasted in “Masterminds.” CREDIT: Glen Wilson, Relativity Media-Armored Car Productions

If there is a single shot in “Masterminds” that represents the intellectually and aesthetically untaxing comic spirit of this blithely lowbrow farce, it is the one that follows an ill-advised visit to a Mexican taco truck by the film’s cartoonish antihero, an inept thief on the lam played by Zach Galifianakis.

Loosely based on an actual 1997 heist of $17 million by an armored-car company employee, the film features the actor hiding beneath a wig that, in combination with his signature beard, makes him look “like Kenny Rogers and Kenny Loggins had a love child, and then Kenny G, he just showed up and started playing a flute and messed this boy up,” as co-star Leslie Jones’s character puts it. That’s a great line, by the way, in an otherwise so-so script that suggests it may have been improvised.

But back to the telling shot: As Galifianakis’ David Ghantt attempts to recover from a bout of Montezuma’s revenge in a Cozumel swimming pool, a plume of brown liquid erupts from his swimsuit region, signaling the film’s interest in the kind of bathroom slapstick that delights undiscriminating middle-schoolers, as well as those whose taste in comedy has never evolved beyond it. Other gags involve hiding money in underpants, the use of vaginal itch cream as a weapon and an accidental shooting that grazes what Ghantt refers to as his “biscuits.”

Such is the just-below-the-belt level of the low-hanging fruit that the filmmakers have chosen to harvest, in a comedy that induces cringing as often as laughter. Directed by Jared Hess (“Napoleon Dynamite”) from a screenplay by “SNL” writer Emily Spivey, Chris Bowman and Hubbel Palmer – the latter two of whom wrote the upcoming “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life” – “Masterminds also features performances by Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Jason Sudeikis and Owen Wilson, in roles that largely squander their significant talent.

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The film does have its moments, however, most of which have less to do with the story than with Hess’ connoisseur-like affinity for such perverse manifestations of late-20th-century junk culture as denim shorts and jacked-up Chevy Geos. “Masterminds” never quite works as a feature film, but it does feel like it might have been hilarious on a sketch-comedy show 20 years ago.

Two stars. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, some coarse language and slapstick violence.) 94 minutes.

Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.